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Circulation. 1995 Sep 15;92(6):1393-8.

Interstitial collagenase (MMP-1) expression in human carotid atherosclerosis.

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Department of Surgery, University of Washington, Seattle 98195, USA.



In human atherosclerosis, most clinical events occur when plaque integrity is compromised and hemorrhage and thrombosis result. One mechanism for this might be the release by plaque cells of matrix-degrading proteases, such as interstitial collagenase (matrix metalloproteinase-1, MMP-1), which degrades two major plaque structural proteins, types I and III collagen. This study was undertaken to determine whether MMP-1 is expressed in human atherosclerotic plaques.


To determine the cellular source and location of MMP-1 in human carotid atherosclerotic lesions, in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry were performed on 20 endarterectomy specimens. Six nonatherosclerotic carotid arteries also were studied. Intense MMP-1 expression (mRNA and protein) was detected in a subset of plaque macrophages located at the borders of the lipid cores adjacent to fibrous caps and shoulder regions. Subsets of plaque smooth muscle cells and endothelial cells also expressed MMP-1. There was a strong correlation between the percentage of the lipid core occupied by hemorrhage and the percentage of the lipid core perimeter positive for MMP-1 (r = .823, P = .0001). MMP-1 was not detected in any cell type in nonatherosclerotic carotid arteries.


This study demonstrates that MMP-1 is expressed by several cell types in human carotid atherosclerosis and that there is a correlation between the expression of the protease and histopathological evidence of plaque instability. Since MMP-1 may degrade the major structural collagens of the plaque, expression of the protease by macrophages in regions critical to plaque integrity could contribute to plaque expansion, rupture, and hemorrhage.

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