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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Jan 17, 1995; 92(2): 402–406.

Macrophage foam cells from experimental atheroma constitutively produce matrix-degrading proteinases.


Monocyte-derived foam cells figure prominently in rupture-prone regions of atherosclerotic plaques. Peripheral blood monocytes in culture can produce certain enzymes that degrade extracellular matrix, known as matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). Lipid-laden macrophages may thus contribute to weakening of extracellular matrix of rupture-prone atherosclerotic plaques. However, the spectrum and regulation of MMP production by foam cells remain unknown. To investigate this issue, we isolated lipid-laden macrophages from rabbit aortic lesions produced by a combination of hypercholesterolemia and balloon injury. Freshly isolated aortic macrophage foam cells, identified using cell-specific antibodies, contained immunoreactive stromelysin and interstitial collagenase, whereas alveolar macrophages isolated from the lungs of same rabbits did not. Macrophages from both tissue sources released gelatinolytic activity consistent with the 92-kDa gelatinase. In vitro, lipid-laden aortic macrophages, but not alveolar macrophages, synthesized de novo and released immunoprecipitable stromelysin and collagenase, with or without stimulation by phorbol ester or bacterial lipopolysaccharide. These stimuli caused foam cells to release additional gelatinolytic activity that migrated faster than a purified preparation of 92-kDa gelatinase in substrate-containing polyacrylamide gels, indicating activation of the 92-kDa gelatinase or induction of the 72-kDa gelatinase. Our results show that lipid-laden macrophages elaborate MMPs capable of degrading the major constituents of vascular extracellular matrix even without further stimulation. Therefore, these cells may contribute to remodeling of the extracellular matrix during atherogenesis and to the disruption of plaques often responsible for acute clinical manifestations of atherosclerosis.

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