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Circ Res. 2001 Aug 3;89(3):244-50.

Chlamydia pneumoniae and chlamydial heat shock protein 60 stimulate proliferation of human vascular smooth muscle cells via toll-like receptor 4 and p44/p42 mitogen-activated protein kinase activation.

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Department of Medicine, New England Medical Center Hospitals and Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.


An early component of atherogenesis is abnormal vascular smooth muscle cell (VSMC) proliferation. The presence of Chlamydia pneumoniae in many atherosclerotic lesions raises the possibility that this organism plays a causal role in atherogenesis. In this study, C pneumoniae elementary bodies (EBs) rapidly activated p44/p42 mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) and stimulated proliferation of VSMCs in vitro. Exposure of VSMCs derived from human saphenous vein to C pneumoniae EBs (3x10(7) inclusion forming units/mL) enhanced bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) incorporation 12+/-3-fold. UV- and heat-inactivated C pneumoniae EBs also stimulated VSMC proliferation, indicating a role of direct stimulation by chlamydial antigens. However, the mitogenic activity of C pneumoniae was heat-labile, thus excluding a role of lipopolysaccharide. Chlamydial hsp60 (25 microg/mL) replicated the effect of C pneumoniae, stimulating BrdU incorporation 7+/-3-fold. Exposure to C pneumoniae or chlamydial hsp60 rapidly activated p44/p42 MAPK, within 5 to 10 minutes of exposure. In addition, PD98059 and U0126, which are two distinct inhibitors of upstream MAPK kinase 1/2 (MEK1/2), abolished the mitogenic effect of C pneumoniae and chlamydial hsp60. Toll-like receptors (TLRs) act as sensors for microbial antigens and can signal via the p44/p42 MAPK pathway. Human VSMCs were shown to express TLR4 mRNA and protein, and a TLR4 antagonist abolished chlamydial hsp60-induced VSMC proliferation and attenuated C pneumoniae-induced MAPK activation and VSMC proliferation. Together these results indicate that C pneumoniae and chlamydial hsp60 are potent inducers of human VSMC proliferation and that these effects are mediated, at least in part, by rapid TLR4-mediated activation of p44/p42 MAPK.

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