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Immunology. 2012 May;136(1):30-45. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2567.2012.03552.x.

Differential regulation of acid sphingomyelinase in macrophages stimulated with oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and oxidized LDL immune complexes: role in phagocytosis and cytokine release.

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Department of Regenerative Medicine and Cell Biology, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC 29425, USA.


Oxidized low-density lipoprotein (oxLDL) and oxLDL-containing immune complexes (oxLDL-IC) contribute to the formation of lipid-laden macrophages (foam cells). Fcγ receptors mediate uptake of oxLDL-IC, whereas scavenger receptors internalize oxLDL. We have previously reported that oxLDL-IC, but not free oxLDL, activate macrophages and prolong their survival. Sphingomyelin is a major constituent of cell membranes and lipoprotein particles and acid sphingomyelinase (ASMase) hydrolyses sphingomyelin to generate the bioactive lipid ceramide. ASMase exists in two forms: lysosomal (L-ASMase) and secretory (S-ASMase). In this study we examined whether oxLDL and oxLDL-IC regulate ASMase differently, and whether ASMase mediates monocyte/macrophage activation and cytokine release. The oxLDL-IC, but not oxLDL, induced early and consistent release of catalytically active S-ASMase. The oxLDL-IC also consistently stimulated L-ASMase activity, whereas oxLDL induced a rapid transient increase in L-ASMase activity before it steadily declined below baseline. Prolonged exposure to oxLDL increased L-ASMase activity; however, activity remained significantly lower than that induced by oxLDL-IC. Further studies were aimed at defining the function of the activated ASMase. In response to oxLDL-IC, heat-shock protein 70B' (HSP70B') was up-regulated and localized with redistributed ASMase in the endosomal compartment outside the lysosome. Treatment with oxLDL-IC induced the formation and release of HSP70-containing and IL-1β-containing exosomes via an ASMase-dependent mechanism. Taken together, the results suggest that oxLDL and oxLDL-IC differentially regulate ASMase activity, and the pro-inflammatory responses to oxLDL-IC are mediated by prolonged activation of ASMase. These findings may contribute to increased understanding of mechanisms mediating macrophage involvement in atherosclerosis.

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