Abstract

 

Endothelial dysfunction-induced lipid retention is an early feature of atherosclerotic lesion formation. Apoptosis of vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) is one of the major modulating factors of atherogenesis, which accelerates atherosclerosis progression by causing plaque destabilization and rupture. However, the mechanism underlying VSMC apoptosis mediated by endothelial dysfunction in relation to atherosclerosis remains elusive. In this study, we reveal differential expression of several genes related to lipid retention and apoptosis, in conjunction with atherosclerosis, by utilizing a genetic mouse model of endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) deficiency manifesting endothelial dysfunction. Moreover, eNOS deficiency led to the enhanced susceptibility against pro-apoptotic insult in VSMCs. In particular, the expression of aggrecan, a major proteoglycan, was elevated in aortic tissue of eNOS deficient mice compared to wild type mice, and administration of aggrecan induced apoptosis in VSMCs. This suggests that eNOS deficiency may elevate aggrecan expression, which promotes apoptosis in VSMC, thereby contributing to atherosclerosis progression. These results may facilitate the development of novel approaches for improving the diagnosis or treatment of atherosclerosis.