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Free Radic Biol Med. 1999 Jul;27(1-2):134-45.

Oxidative stress leads to cholesterol accumulation in vascular smooth muscle cells.

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INSERM U498, Biochimie des Lipoprotéines et Interactions Vasculaires, Université de Bourgogne, Dijon, France.


The transformation of macrophages and smooth muscle cells into foam cells by modified low-density lipoproteins (LDL) is one of the key events of atherogenesis. Effects of free radicals have mainly been studied in LDL, and other than toxicity, data dealing with direct action of free radicals on cells are scarce. This study focused on the direct effects of free radicals on cholesterol metabolism of smooth muscle cells. A free radical generator, azobis-amidinopropane dihydrochloride, was used, and conditions for a standardized oxidative stress were set up in vascular smooth muscle cells. After free radical action, the cells presented an accumulation of cholesterol that appeared to be the result of: (i) an increase in cholesterol biosynthesis and esterification; (ii) a decrease in cell cholesteryl ester hydrolysis; and (iii) a reduced cholesterol efflux. All these parameters were opposed by antioxidants. In addition, oxidant stress induced an increased degradation of acetyl-LDL, whereas no change was noted for native LDL. From this data, it was concluded that cholesterol metabolism of vascular smooth muscle cells was markedly altered by in vitro treatment with free radicals, although cell viability was unaffected. The resulting disturbance in cholesterol metabolism favors accumulation of cholesterol and cholesteryl esters in vascular cells, and thus may contribute to the formation of smooth muscle foam cells.

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