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J Am Coll Cardiol. 1992 Nov 15;20(6):1430-9.

Smooth muscle cell outgrowth from human atherosclerotic plaque: implications for the assessment of lesion biology.

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Department of Medicine (Cardiology), St. Elizabeth's Hospital, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts 02135.



The purpose of this study was to determine whether the kinetics of smooth muscle cell outgrowth from in vitro explants of human atherosclerotic tissue is dependent on the nature of the atherosclerotic lesion in vivo.


The use of techniques for percutaneous in vivo extraction of atherosclerotic plaque has provided the opportunity to study human atheroma-derived smooth muscle cells in culture. However, because of cell selection and changes in phenotype, in vitro findings may not always reflect the biologic properties of the vessel wall, particularly if cells are in culture for prolonged periods. In contrast, studies with nonhuman cells have suggested that the rate at which cells grow out of tissue explants is closely related to the status of the cells in vivo.


Atherosclerotic tissue from 41 lesions, including primary plaques (from peripheral arteries and venous bypass conduits) and restenotic lesions (from peripheral arteries and venous conduits) were divided into a total of 1,596 fragments and placed in culture on fibronectin-coated wells. Explant outgrowth was scored over the ensuing 1 month to determine the prevalence and time course of smooth muscle cell outgrowth and the total cellular accumulation.


Explant fragments from 40 (98%) of the 41 lesions yielded an outgrowth of smooth muscle cells, confirmed by immunocytochemistry. The mean proportion of adherent explant fragments yielding outgrowth, per lesion, was 69 +/- 4% and was higher in restenotic tissue (81 +/- 3%) than in primary tissue (56 +/- 6%, p < 0.001). For primary lesions, initiation of outgrowth was half-maximal by 8.7 +/- 0.4 days; for restenotic explants, initiation of outgrowth was considerably faster (half-maximal by 5.9 +/- 0.6 days, p < 0.001). Similarly, accumulation of smooth muscle cells around an explant was significantly greater for restenotic lesions (2,791 +/- 631 cells/explant) than for primary lesions (653 +/- 144 cells/explant, p < 0.01). Labeling of first-passage cells with [3H]-thymidine indicated that cells from restenotic lesions had a 1.3-fold greater incorporation rate than did cells from primary lesions (p < 0.05).


Smooth muscle cells may be reliably cultivated by explant outgrowth from a variety of human atherosclerotic plaque types obtained intraoperatively or percutaneously. The kinetics of outgrowth from restenotic tissue is distinctly different from that of outgrowth from primary tissue, suggesting a relation between the in vitro outgrowth behavior and the biology of the lesion in vivo. Assessment of smooth muscle cell outgrowth from human atherosclerotic plaque may thus represent a practical and reliable means to investigate the biologic behavior, including growth characteristics, of individual atherosclerotic lesions from human subjects. This technique may also offer a suitable assay system for evaluating therapies designed to inhibit lesion proliferation.

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