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Nat Genet. 1997 Dec;17(4):439-44.

Urokinase-generated plasmin activates matrix metalloproteinases during aneurysm formation.

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Centre for Transgene Technology and Gene Therapy, Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology, University of Leuven, Belgium.


The molecular mechanisms predisposing to atherosclerotic aneurysm formation remain undefined. Nevertheless, rupture of aortic aneurysms is a major cause of death in Western societies, with few available treatments and poor long-term prognosis. Indirect evidence suggests that matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) and plasminogen activators (PAs) are involved in its pathogenesis. MMPs are secreted as inactive zymogens (pro-MMPs), requiring activation in the extracellular compartment. Plasmin, generated from the zymogen plasminogen by tissue-type plasminogen activator (t-PA) or urokinase-type plasminogen activator (u-PA; refs 14,15), has been proposed as a possible activator in vitro, but evidence for such a role in vivo is lacking. Analysis of atherosclerotic aorta in mice with a deficiency of apoliprotein E (Apoe-/-; ref. 18), singly or combined with a deficiency of t-PA (Apoe-/-:Plat-/-) or of u-PA (Apoe-/-:Plau-/-; ref. 19), indicated that deficiency of u-PA protected against media destruction and aneurysm formation, probably by means of reduced plasmin-dependent activation of pro-MMPs. This genetic evidence suggests that plasmin is a pathophysiologically significant activator of pro-MMPs in vivo and may have implications for the design of therapeutic strategies to prevent aortic-wall destruction by controlling Plau gene function.

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