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J Clin Invest. 2003 Nov;112(9):1342-50. Epub 2003 Oct 20.

Disruption of TGF-beta signaling in T cells accelerates atherosclerosis.

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  • 1Center for Molecular Medicine, L8:03 Karolinska Hospital, SE-17176 Stockholm, Sweden.


Increasing evidence suggests that atherosclerosis is an inflammatory disease promoted by hypercholesterolemia. The role of adaptive immunity has been controversial, however. We hypothesized that proatherogenic T cells are controlled by immunoregulatory cytokines. Among them, TGF-beta has been implied in atherosclerosis, but its mechanism of action remains unclear. We crossed atherosclerosis-prone ApoE-knockout mice with transgenic mice carrying a dominant negative TGF-beta receptor II in T cells. The ApoE-knockout mice with disrupted TGF-beta signaling in T cells exhibited a sixfold increase in aortic lesion surface area, a threefold increase in aortic root lesion size, and a 125-fold increase in aortic IFN-gamma mRNA when compared with age-matched ApoE-knockout littermates. When comparing size-matched lesions, those of mice with T cell-specific blockade of TGF-beta signaling displayed increased T cells, activated macrophages, and reduced collagen, consistent with a more vulnerable phenotype. Ab's to oxidized LDL, circulating T cell cytokines, and spleen T cell activity were all increased in ApoE-knockout mice with dominant negative TGF-beta receptors in T cells. Taken together, these results show that abrogation of TGF-beta signaling in T cells increases atherosclerosis and suggest that TGF-beta reduces atherosclerosis by dampening T cell activation. Inhibition of T cell activation may therefore represent a strategy for antiatherosclerotic therapy.

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