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Sci Transl Med. 2013 Jul 31;5(196):196ra100. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3006133.

Transforming growth factor-β signaling in T cells promotes stabilization of atherosclerotic plaques through an interleukin-17-dependent pathway.

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Center for Molecular Medicine, Department of Medicine, Karolinska University Hospital, Karolinska Institutet, SE-17176 Stockholm, Sweden.


Adaptive immunity has a major impact on atherosclerosis, with pro- and anti-atherosclerotic effects exerted by different subpopulations of T cells. Transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) may promote development either of anti-atherosclerotic regulatory T cells or of T helper 17 (TH17) cells, depending on factors in the local milieu. We have addressed the effect on atherosclerosis of enhanced TGF-β signaling in T cells. Bone marrow from mice with a T cell-specific deletion of Smad7, a potent inhibitor of TGF-β signaling, was transplanted into hypercholesterolemic Ldlr(-/-) mice. Smad7-deficient mice had significantly larger atherosclerotic lesions that contained large collagen-rich caps, consistent with a more stable phenotype. The inflammatory cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) was expressed in the atherosclerotic aorta, and increased mRNA for IL-17A and the TH17-specific transcription factor RORγt were detected in draining lymph nodes. Treating Smad7-deficient chimeras with neutralizing IL-17A antibodies reversed stable cap formation. IL-17A stimulated collagen production by human vascular smooth muscle cells, and RORγt mRNA correlated positively with collagen type I and α-smooth muscle actin mRNA in a biobank of human atherosclerotic plaques. These data link IL-17A to induction of a stable plaque phenotype, could lead to new plaque-stabilizing therapies, and should prompt an evaluation of cardiovascular events in patients treated with IL-17 receptor blockade.

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