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Circulation. 2012 Feb 21;125(7):894-901. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.111.057406. Epub 2012 Jan 18.

Gene inactivation of proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 reduces atherosclerosis in mice.

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  • 1Laboratory of Biochemical Neuroendocrinology, Clinical Research Institute of Montreal, 110 Pine Ave W, Montreal, QC, H2W 1R7, Canada.



The proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9) promotes independently of its enzymatic activity the degradation of the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) receptor. PCSK9 gain of function in humans leads to autosomal dominant hypercholesterolemia, whereas the absence of functional PCSK9 results in ≈7-fold lower levels of LDL cholesterol. This suggests that lowering PCSK9 may protect against atherosclerosis.


We investigated the role of PCSK9 in atherosclerosis in C57BL/6 wild-type (WT), apolipoprotein E-deficient, and LDL receptor-deficient mouse models. Circulating cholesterol levels, fast protein liquid chromatography profiles, aortic cholesteryl esters (CE), and plaque sizes were determined. Intima-media thicknesses were measured by ultrasound biomicroscopy. First, mice expressing null (knockout [KO]), normal (WT), or high (transgenic [Tg]) levels of PCSK9 were fed a 12-month Western diet. KO mice accumulated 4-fold less aortic CE than WT mice, whereas Tg mice exhibited high CE and severe aortic lesions. Next we generated apolipoprotein E-deficient mice, known to spontaneously develop lesions, that expressed null (KO/e), normal (WT/e), or high (Tg/e) levels of PCSK9. After a 6-month regular diet, KO/e mice showed a 39% reduction compared with WT/e mice in aortic CE accumulation, whereas Tg/e mice showed a 137% increase. Finally, LDL receptor-deficient mice expressing no (KO/L), normal (WT/L), or high (Tg/L) levels of PCSK9 were fed a Western diet for 3 months. KO/L and Tg/L mice exhibited levels of plasma cholesterol and CE accumulation similar to those of WT/L mice, suggesting that PCSK9 modulates atherosclerosis mainly via the LDL receptor.


Altogether, our results show a direct relationship between PCSK9 and atherosclerosis. PCSK9 overexpression is proatherogenic, whereas its absence is protective.

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