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Atherosclerosis. 2007 Dec;195(2):e69-75. Epub 2007 Jul 2.

HIF-1 alpha expression is associated with an atheromatous inflammatory plaque phenotype and upregulated in activated macrophages.

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Department of Pathology, University Medical Center Utrecht, Ultrecht, The Netherlands.



Angiogenesis and inflammation are important features in atherosclerotic plaque destabilization. The transcription factor hypoxia-inducible factor-1 alpha (HIF-1 alpha) is a key regulator of angiogenesis and is also involved in inflammatory reactions. We studied HIF-1 alpha expression in different atherosclerotic plaque phenotypes.


HIF-1 alpha expression was observed in 18/37 (49%) carotid and in 9/15 (60%) femoral endarterectomy specimens. Expression of HIF-1 alpha was associated with the presence of a large extracellular lipid core (P=0.03) and macrophages (P=0.02). HIF-1 alpha co-localized with vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), an important downstream target of HIF-1 alpha. In addition, a strong association was observed between expression levels of HIF-1 alpha and VEGF (P=0.001). The average number of plaque microvessels was higher in plaques with no or minor HIF-1 alpha staining than in plaques with moderate or heavy HIF-1 alpha staining (P=0.03). In human macrophages, lipopolysaccharide activation induced HIF-1 alpha expression. In embryonic fibroblasts derived from wild-type mice, lipopolysaccharide activation induced an increase in HIF-1 alpha mRNA, whereas in Toll-like receptor 4 defective embryonic fibroblasts no effect was observed after lipopolysaccharide stimulation.


In atherosclerotic plaque, the transcription factor HIF-1 alpha is associated with an atheromatous inflammatory plaque phenotype and with VEGF expression. HIF-1 alpha expression is upregulated in activated macrophages under normoxic conditions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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