Coronary artery disease, resulting from atherosclerosis, is the leading cause of death in the Western world. Most previous studies have subjected atherosclerotic arteries, a tissue of mixed cellular composition, to homogenization in order to identify the factors in plaque development, thereby obscuring information relevant to specific cell types. Because macrophage foam cells are critical mediators in atherosclerotic plaque advancement, we reasoned that performing gene analysis on those cells would provide specific insight in novel regulatory factors and potential therapeutic targets. We demonstrated for the first time in vascular biology that foam cell-specific RNA can be isolated by laser capture microdissection (LCM) of plaques. As expected, compared to whole tissue, a significant enrichment in foam cell-specific RNA transcripts was observed. Furthermore, because regression of atherosclerosis is a tantalizing clinical goal, we developed and reported a transplantation-based mouse model. This involved allowing plaques to form in apoE−/− mice and then changing the plaque’s plasma environment from hyperlipidemia to normolipidemia. Under those conditions, rapid regression ensued in a process involving emigration of plaque foam cells to regional and systemic lymph nodes. Using LCM, we were able to show that under regression conditions, there was decreased expression in foam cells of inflammatory genes, but an up-regulation of cholesterol efflux genes. Interestingly, we also found that increased expression of chemokine receptor CCR7, a known factor in dendritic cell migration, was required for regression. In conclusion, the LCM methods described in this chapter, which have already lead to a number of striking findings, will likely further facilitate the study of cell type-specific gene expression in animal and human plaques during various stages of atherosclerosis, and after genetic, pharmacologic, and environmental perturbations.
apoE Atherosclerosis Gene expression LCM CCR7
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This work was supported by NIH grant HL-084312 (E.A.F.) and by an NIH predoctoral fellowship AG-029748 (J.E.F.).
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