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Circulation. 1998 Jun 23;97(24):2433-44.

Lipid lowering by diet reduces matrix metalloproteinase activity and increases collagen content of rabbit atheroma: a potential mechanism of lesion stabilization.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Mass 02115, USA.



Proteolytic enzyme activity in lipid-rich atheroma may promote plaque rupture and precipitate acute coronary syndromes. This study tested the hypothesis that lipid lowering stabilizes plaques by reducing proteolytic activity.


We produced experimental atheroma in 33 rabbits by balloon injury and an atherogenic diet (0.3% cholesterol and 4.7% coconut oil) for 4 months. At that time, 15 rabbits were killed (baseline group). The remaining animals were divided into two groups: a hyperlipemic group continued to consume a cholesterol-enriched diet (0.05% to 0.2%) for 16 more months (n=5) and a lipid-lowering group consumed a purified chow diet with no added cholesterol or fat for 8 (n=3) or 16 months (n=10). Macrophage accumulation and interstitial collagenase (matrix metalloproteinase-1, MMP-1) expression in the lesion were measured by quantitative image analysis of standardized sections of immunostained aortas. Baseline lesions expressed high levels of MMP-1 and contained many macrophages. These features of plaque instability persisted in the hyperlipemic group. However, the lipid-lowering group showed progressive reduction in both macrophage content and MMP- 1 immunoreactivity with time. Aortic rings of the baseline and hyperlipemic groups elaborated gelatinolytic, caseinolytic, and elastinolytic activity attributable to MMP-2, MMP-3, or MMP-9, monitored by SDS-PAGE zymography. Proteolytic activity decreased markedly in the lipid-lowering group. Aortic content of interstitial collagen, determined by sirius red staining, increased in the lipid-lowering group compared with the baseline or continued hyperlipemic groups, indicating that lipid lowering reinforced the fibrous skeleton of the atheroma.


These results establish a mechanism by which lipid lowering may stabilize vulnerable plaques by reduced expression and activity of enzymes that degrade the arterial extracellular matrix and render atheroma less susceptible to disruption and thrombosis by favoring collagen accumulation in the fibrous cap.

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