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Circ Res. 2014 Jan 3;114(1):32-40. doi: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.113.302089. Epub 2013 Oct 1.

Systemic delivery of microRNA-181b inhibits nuclear factor-κB activation, vascular inflammation, and atherosclerosis in apolipoprotein E-deficient mice.

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  • 1From the Department of Medicine, Cardiovascular Division, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA (X.S., S.H., A.K.M.W., B.I., E.S., Y.T., N.B., G.K.S., K.C., M.W.F.); Department of Cardiology, Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases, Union Hospital, Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China (S.H., D.L.); and Department of Medicine, Division of Allergy, Pulmonary, and Critical Care Medicine, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, TN (T.S.B.).



Activated nuclear factor (NF)-κB signaling in the vascular endothelium promotes the initiation and progression of atherosclerosis. Targeting endothelial NF-κB may provide a novel strategy to limit chronic inflammation.


To examine the role of microRNA-181b (miR-181b) in endothelial NF-κB signaling and effects on atherosclerosis.


MiR-181b expression was reduced in the aortic intima and plasma in apolipoprotein E-deficient mice fed a high-fat diet. Correspondingly, circulating miR-181b in the plasma was markedly reduced in human subjects with coronary artery disease. Systemic delivery of miR-181b resulted in a 2.3-fold overexpression of miR-181b in the aortic intima of apolipoprotein E-deficient mice and suppressed NF-κB signaling revealed by bioluminescence imaging and reduced target gene expression in the aortic arch in apolipoprotein E-deficient/NF-κB-luciferase transgenic mice. MiR-181b significantly inhibited atherosclerotic lesion formation, proinflammatory gene expression and the influx of lesional macrophages and CD4+ T cells in the vessel wall. Mechanistically, miR-181b inhibited the expression of the target gene importin-α3, an effect that reduced NF-κB nuclear translocation specifically in the vascular endothelium of lesions, whereas surprisingly leukocyte NF-κB signaling was unaffected despite a 7-fold overexpression of miR-181b. Our findings uncover that NF-κB nuclear translocation in leukocytes does not involve importin-α3, but rather importin-α5, which miR-181b does not target, highlighting that inhibition of NF-κB signaling in the endothelium is sufficient to mediate miR-181b's protective effects.


Systemic delivery of miR-181b inhibits the activation of NF-κB and atherosclerosis through cell-specific mechanisms in the vascular endothelium. These findings support the rationale that delivery of miR-181b may provide a novel therapeutic approach to treat chronic inflammatory diseases such as atherosclerosis.


NF-κB; atherosclerosis; endothelial cells; inflammation; karyopherins; microRNAs

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