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PLoS One. 2013;8(2):e55784. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0055784. Epub 2013 Feb 7.

Genetic and pharmacological modifications of thrombin formation in apolipoprotein e-deficient mice determine atherosclerosis severity and atherothrombosis onset in a neutrophil-dependent manner.

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  • 1Laboratory for Clinical Thrombosis and Hemostasis, Department of Internal Medicine, Cardiovascular Research Institute Maastricht, Maastricht University Medical Center, Maastricht, The Netherlands.



Variations in the blood coagulation activity, determined genetically or by medication, may alter atherosclerotic plaque progression, by influencing pleiotropic effects of coagulation proteases. Published experimental studies have yielded contradictory findings on the role of hypercoagulability in atherogenesis. We therefore sought to address this matter by extensively investigating the in vivo significance of genetic alterations and pharmacologic inhibition of thrombin formation for the onset and progression of atherosclerosis, and plaque phenotype determination.


We generated transgenic atherosclerosis-prone mice with diminished coagulant or hypercoagulable phenotype and employed two distinct models of atherosclerosis. Gene-targeted 50% reduction in prothrombin (FII(-/WT):ApoE(-/-)) was remarkably effective in limiting disease compared to control ApoE(-/-) mice, associated with significant qualitative benefits, including diminished leukocyte infiltration, altered collagen and vascular smooth muscle cell content. Genetically-imposed hypercoagulability in TM(Pro/Pro):ApoE(-/-) mice resulted in severe atherosclerosis, plaque vulnerability and spontaneous atherothrombosis. Hypercoagulability was associated with a pronounced neutrophilia, neutrophil hyper-reactivity, markedly increased oxidative stress, neutrophil intraplaque infiltration and apoptosis. Administration of either the synthetic specific thrombin inhibitor Dabigatran etexilate, or recombinant activated protein C (APC), counteracted the pro-inflammatory and pro-atherogenic phenotype of pro-thrombotic TM(Pro/Pro):ApoE(-/-) mice.


We provide new evidence highlighting the importance of neutrophils in the coagulation-inflammation interplay during atherogenesis. Our findings reveal that thrombin-mediated proteolysis is an unexpectedly powerful determinant of atherosclerosis in multiple distinct settings. These studies suggest that selective anticoagulants employed to prevent thrombotic events may also be remarkably effective in clinically impeding the onset and progression of cardiovascular disease.

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