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Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2009 Apr 15;236(2):194-201. doi: 10.1016/j.taap.2009.01.024. Epub 2009 Feb 7.

Acrolein activates matrix metalloproteinases by increasing reactive oxygen species in macrophages.

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Institute of Molecular Cardiology, Department of Medicine, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY 40202, USA.


Acrolein is a ubiquitous component of environmental pollutants such as automobile exhaust, cigarette, wood, and coal smoke. It is also a natural constituent of several foods and is generated endogenously during inflammation or oxidation of unsaturated lipids. Because increased inflammation and episodic exposure to acrolein-rich pollutants such as traffic emissions or cigarette smoke have been linked to acute myocardial infarction, we examined the effects of acrolein on matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), which destabilize atherosclerotic plaques. Our studies show that exposure to acrolein resulted in the secretion of MMP-9 from differentiated THP-1 macrophages. Acrolein-treatment of macrophages also led to an increase in reactive oxygen species (ROS), free intracellular calcium ([Ca2+](i)), and xanthine oxidase (XO) activity. ROS production was prevented by allopurinol, but not by rotenone or apocynin and by buffering changes in [Ca2+](I) with BAPTA-AM. The increase in MMP production was abolished by pre-treatment with the antioxidants Tiron and N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) or with the xanthine oxidase inhibitors allopurinol or oxypurinol. Finally, MMP activity was significantly stimulated in aortic sections from apoE-null mice containing advanced atherosclerotic lesions after exposure to acrolein ex vivo. These observations suggest that acrolein exposure results in MMP secretion from macrophages via a mechanism that involves an increase in [Ca2+](I), leading to xanthine oxidase activation and an increase in ROS production. ROS-dependent activation of MMPs by acrolein could destabilize atherosclerotic lesions during brief episodes of inflammation or pollutant exposure.

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