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J Clin Invest. 1970 Aug;49(8):1479-88.

Lipid droplets in atherosclerotic fatty streaks of human aorta.


Preparations of lipid droplets and droplet-free tissue residue (cytoplasm + membranes + nuclei) were obtained by homogenization and centrifugal separation from intimal fatty streak lesions of aortic atherosclerosis of 21 adults who had died suddenly. Neutral lipids and phospholipids were analyzed by quantitative thin-layer chromatography and cholesteryl ester fatty acids by gas-liquid chromatography. Optical properties of droplets were evaluated by differential counting and sizing procedures with the polarizing microscope. The droplets occurred in mixtures of two forms distinguished by their optical properties, anisotropic (i.e. liquid crystals) and isotropic (true liquids). Both forms had average diameters of about 1.8 mu, with a range of 0.5-5mu. The proportions of the two forms varied with temperature as individual droplets changed their form; anisotropic forms averaged 83.7% at degrees C and 37.8% at 37 degrees C, with isotropic forms being 16.3 and 62.2% respectively. The proportions of anisotropic forms at 22 degrees C decreased with age. These forms were not separated for chemical analysis. The droplets contained about half the lipid in the lesions. The composition of the lipids of the droplet mixture was remarkably uniform and strikingly different from that of the droplet-free residue, respectively: cholesteryl esters 94.9% vs. 38.7%, free cholesterol 1.7% vs. 18.6%, total phospholipids 1.0% vs. 38.6%, and triglycerides 2.4% vs. 4.0%. The proportions of individual phospholipids, with the exception of lysolecithin, were also different between the preparations. In the droplets only the proportions of lecithin correlated positively with the proportion of anisotropic forms (at 22 degrees C). Droplet cholesteryl esters were particularly rich in oleic acid and when compared to residue esters had more palmitoleic (+0.7%), oleic (+12.3%), and eicosatrienoic (+2.4%) and less palmitic (-2.2%), linoleic (-12.4%), and arachidonic (-1.6%) acids. The proportions of most individual fatty acids of droplets and residue correlated positively. The lipids of the residue closely resemble those reported for the normal intima.The observations that these droplets are prominent in the morphology of the fatty streak lesions, and that their high content of oleate-rich cholesteryl esters is similar to that reported for analysis of the whole lesions, suggest that the droplets may be involved in the pathogenesis of the fatty streak lesions of artherosclerosis in man.

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