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Atherosclerosis. 2012 Aug;223(2):332-41. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2012.05.039. Epub 2012 Jun 12.

Macrophage ABCA2 deletion modulates intracellular cholesterol deposition, affects macrophage apoptosis, and decreases early atherosclerosis in LDL receptor knockout mice.

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Division of Biopharmaceutics, Leiden/Amsterdam Center for Drug Research, Gorlaeus Laboratories, Leiden University, Einsteinweg 55, 2333CC Leiden, The Netherlands.



The ABCA2 transporter shares high structural homology to ABCA1, which is crucial for the removal of excess cholesterol from macrophages and, by extension, in atherosclerosis. It has been suggested that ABCA2 sequesters cholesterol inside the lysosomes, however, little is known of the macrophage-specific role of ABCA2 in regulating lipid homeostasis in vivo and in modulating susceptibility to atherosclerosis.


Chimeras with dysfunctional macrophage ABCA2 were generated by transplantation of bone marrow from ABCA2 knockout (KO) mice into irradiated LDL receptor (LDLr) KO mice.


Interestingly, lack of ABCA2 in macrophages resulted in a diminished lesion size in the aortic root (-24.5%) and descending thoracic aorta (-36.6%) associated with a 3-fold increase in apoptotic cells, as measured by both caspase 3 and TUNEL. Upon oxidized LDL exposure, macrophages from wildtype (WT) transplanted animals developed filipin-positive droplets in lysosomal-like compartments, corresponding to free cholesterol (FC) accumulation. In contrast, ABCA2-deficient macrophages displayed an abnormal diffuse distribution of FC over peripheral regions. The accumulation of neutral sterols in lipid droplets was increased in ABCA2-deficient macrophages, but primarily in cytoplasmic clusters and not in lysosomes. Importantly, apoptosis of oxLDL loaded macrophages lacking ABCA2 was increased 2.7-fold, probably as a consequence of the broad cellular distribution of FC.


Lack of functional ABCA2 generates abnormalities in intracellular lipid distribution/trafficking in macrophages consistent with its lysosomal sequestering role, leading to an increased susceptibility to apoptosis in response to oxidized lipids and reduced atherosclerotic lesion development.

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