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Exp Mol Pathol. 2004 Feb;76(1):17-23.

C5b-9 terminal complement complex assembly on apoptotic cells in human arterial wall with atherosclerosis.

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Department of Pathology, School of Medicine, University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA.


Apoptosis plays an important role in atherosclerosis. The factors regulating this process are not well defined. We examined the relation of apoptotic cells with the terminal complement complex C5b-9 in human atherosclerotic lesions. The extent of apoptosis was determined using TdT dUTP nick-end labeling (TUNEL) and immunohistochemistry of apoptosis regulators caspase-3, caspase-9, Bax, and Bcl-2. C5b-9 was localized by immunohistochemistry and immunoelectron microscopy. The apoptotic index was higher in fibrous plaques when compared with intimal fatty streaks and intimal thickenings. Bax expression was present in TUNEL+ apoptotic cells, and Bcl-2 was rarely present in the atherosclerotic wall. Active caspase 9 and caspase 3 deposits were present in the same areas, suggesting an involvement of the mitochondrial pathway. C5b-9 deposits colocalized with TUNEL+ cells, and the percent of double-positive cells was 2% in fatty streaks, 12% in intimal thickenings, and 35% in fibrous plaques. Colocalization of apoptotic cells with C5b-9 was also confirmed by immunoelectron microscopy. In conclusion, some apoptotic cells carry C5b-9 deposits, suggesting that complement might be activated by apoptotic cells and involved in the promotion of apoptosis, contributing to the progression of atherosclerotic lesions.

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