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Eur J Cardiothorac Surg. 2012 Nov;42(5):878-84. doi: 10.1093/ejcts/ezs128. Epub 2012 May 2.

Inhibition of cell surface expression of endothelial adhesion molecules by ursolic acid prevents intimal hyperplasia of venous bypass grafts in rats.

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  • 1Department of Cardiac Surgery, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.



Despite rapid progress in surgical techniques, there is still a significant lack of surgery-supportive pharmacological treatments. The aim of this study was to test the hypothesis that ursolic acid (UA) may prevent intimal hyperplasia of venous bypass grafts.


The hypothesis was tested by means of primary cell isolation and culture followed by real-time polymerase chain reaction, western blotting, fluorescence microscopy and fluorescence-activated cell sorting analyses, as well as an in vivo rat model for intimal hyperplasia of venous bypass grafts and immunohistochemistry and histochemistry.


The local application of UA significantly inhibited intimal hyperplasia in vivo (intimal thickness control: 25 µm, UA group: 18 µM-8 weeks after surgery). The UA treatment of grafts significantly resulted in reduced endothelial vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) expression, reduced infiltration of the grafts vessel wall by CD45-positive cells and increased smooth muscle cell (SMC) death. In in vitro condition, it could be shown that UA inhibits VCAM-1 expression downstream of NFκB and is likely to interfere with VCAM-1 protein synthesis in endothelial cells. Quantification of cell death in vascular smooth muscle cells treated with UA indicated that UA is a potent inducer of SMC apoptosis.


Our results suggest that UA-mediated inhibition of endothelial VCAM-1 expression reduces the infiltration of venous bypass grafts by CD45-positive cells and inhibits intimal hyperplasia. Apoptosis induction in SMCs may be another method in which UA reduces intimal thickening. UA may constitute a surgery-supportive pharmacon that reduces intimal hyperplasia of vein grafts.

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