A Novel Regulator of NLRP3 Inflammasome Activation With Increased Expression in Coronary Atherogenesis
Objective—Activation of the inflammasome pathway in macrophages results in the secretion of 2 potent proinflammatory and proatherogenic cytokines, interleukin (IL)-1β, and IL-18. Atherosclerotic lesions are characterized by the presence of various endogenous activators of the NLR family pyrin domain containing 3 (NLRP3) inflammasome, including cholesterol crystals and extracellular ATP. The aim of this study was to comprehensively characterize the expression of inflammasome pathway components and regulators in human atherosclerotic lesions.
Approach and Results—Twenty human coronary artery RNA samples from 10 explanted hearts were analyzed using an inflammasome pathway–focused quantitative polymerase chain reaction array. Advanced atherosclerotic plaques, when compared with early-to-intermediate lesions from the same coronary trees, displayed significant upregulation of 12 target genes, including the key inflammasome components apoptosis-associated speck-like protein containing a CARD domain, caspase-1, and IL-18. Immunohistochemical stainings of the advanced plaques revealed macrophage foam cells positive for NLRP3 inflammasome components around the necrotic lipid cores. The polymerase chain reaction array target p38δ mitogen-activated protein kinase was upregulated in advanced plaques and strongly expressed by lesional macrophage foam cells. In cultured human monocyte–derived macrophages, the p38δ mitogen-activated protein kinase was activated by intracellular stress signals triggered during ATP- and cholesterol crystal–induced NLRP3 inflammasome activation and was required for NLRP3-mediated IL-1β secretion.
Conclusions—Increased expression of the key inflammasome components in advanced coronary lesions implies enhanced activity of the inflammasome pathway in progression of coronary atherosclerosis. The p38δ mitogen-activated protein kinase was identified as a novel regulator of NLRP3 inflammasome activation in primary human macrophages, and thus, represents a potential target for modulation of atherosclerotic inflammation.
- Received February 1, 2016.
- Accepted July 4, 2016.
- © 2016 American Heart Association, Inc.