04 Jul Preventing Cholesterol-Induced Perk (Protein Kinase RNA-Like Endoplasmic Reticulum Kinase) Signaling in Smooth Muscle Cells Blocks Atherosclerotic Plaque Formation
Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, Ahead of Print.
BACKGROUND:Vascular smooth muscle cells (SMCs) undergo complex phenotypic modulation with atherosclerotic plaque formation in hyperlipidemic mice, which is characterized by de-differentiation and heterogeneous increases in the expression of macrophage, fibroblast, osteogenic, and stem cell markers. An increase of cellular cholesterol in SMCs triggers similar phenotypic changes in vitro with exposure to free cholesterol due to cholesterol entering the endoplasmic reticulum, triggering endoplasmic reticulum stress and activating Perk (protein kinase RNA-like endoplasmic reticulum kinase) signaling.METHODS:We generated an SMC-specificPerkknockout mouse model, induced hyperlipidemia in the mice by AAV-PCSK9DYinjection, and subjected them to a high-fat diet. We then assessed atherosclerotic plaque formation and performed single-cell transcriptomic studies using aortic tissue from these mice.RESULTS:SMC-specific deletion of Perk reduces atherosclerotic plaque formation in male hyperlipidemic mice by 80%. Single-cell transcriptomic data identify 2 clusters of modulated SMCs in hyperlipidemic mice, one of which is absent whenPerkis deleted in SMCs. The 2 modulated SMC clusters have significant overlap of transcriptional changes, but the Perk-dependent cluster uniquely shows a global decrease in the number of transcripts, a marker of an integrated stress response. SMC-specific Perk deletion also prevents migration of both contractile and modulated SMCs from the medial layer of the aorta.CONCLUSIONS:Our results indicate that hypercholesterolemia drives both Perk-dependent and Perk-independent SMC modulation and that deficiency of Perk significantly blocks atherosclerotic plaque formation.