Deletion of arginase-1 in murine erythrocytes promotes smooth muscle cell fatty acid translocase overexpression, foam cell formation and atherosclerosis progression

Beichen Sun (Mainz)1, R. Gogiraju (Mainz)1, T. Münzel (Mainz)1, P. Lurz (Mainz)1, K. Schäfer (Mainz)1

1Universitätsmedizin der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz Kardiologie 1, Zentrum für Kardiologie Mainz, Deutschland


Background and Aim: Experimental and clinical evidence suggests that erythrocytes have roles in cardiovascular function beyond the transport of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and that erythrocyte dysfunction contributes to cardiovascular disease processes. The endothelial isoform of nitric oxide (NO) synthase (eNOS) is also expressed and active in the erythrocyte membrane. The production of NO from erythrocytes in counterbalanced by arginase-1 (ARG1), which competes with eNOS for their common substrate L-arginine. We recently showed that genetic deletion of ARG1 in murine red blood cells (RBCs) promotes atherosclerotic lesion calcification by enhancing NO signaling and S-nitrosylation of smooth muscle cell (SMC) proteins. The aim of this study is to determine whether and how erythrocyte ARG1 deletion alters SMC transdifferentiation into foam cells and atherosclerosis progression.

Methods: Primary smooth muscle cells (pSMCs) were isolated from the abdominal aorta of RBC.ARG1-knockout (KO) and RBC.ARG1 wildtype (WT) mice and cultured in DMEM (Dulbecco's Modified Eagle's medium), alone or in the presence of DIA (dexamethasone, insulin and ascorbic acid) medium to allow foam cell formation. Atherosclerosis-prone mice with conditional, erythrocyte-specific deletion of ARG1 (apoE-/- RBC.ARG1-KO) were fed western type diet for 12 and 20 weeks followed by evaluation of atherosclerotic plaque formation at the aortic root and on en face preparations.

Results: Following cultivation in DIA medium for ten days, primary aortic SMCs isolated from RBC.ARG1-KO mice exhibited a highly significant increased accumulation of lipids compared to those from RBC.ARG1-WT mice, as shown by Oil Red O and BODIPY (493/503) lipid staining, or cholesterol measurements of total cell lysates. Analysis of pSMCs from membrane Tomato transgenic reporter mice excluded the possibility of "leakiness" of the Cre recombinase promoter underlying these observations. Quantitative real-time PCR and Western blot analysis of lipid scavenger receptors showed significantly increased expression levels of CD36 (also known as fatty acid translocase or scavenger receptor class B member 3) involved in the uptake of oxidized LDL cholesterol, whereas mRNA levels of smooth muscle cell marker genes was significantly reduced. On the other hand, the mRNA expression of SR-BI, ABCA1 or ABCG1, controlling cholesterol efflux, was not altered. A significant increase in foam cell formation was also observed in wild type pSMCs treated with the NO donor DETA-NO, the NO-independent sGC activator BAY58-2667 or the sGC stimulator BAY41-2272, or with MY-5445, a specific inhibitor of cyclic GMP phosphodiesterase type 5, thus phenocopying the increased foam cell formation observed in RBC.ARG1-KO SMCs. On the other hand, inhibition of NO signaling using ODQ (to inhibit soluble guanylyl cyclase) or KT5823 (to inhibit protein kinase G) significantly reduced foam cell formation in vitro. Increased lipid accumulation in atherosclerotic plaques of apoE-/- RBC.ARG1-KO compared to apoE-/- RBC.ARG1-WT mice was also observed in vivo.

Conclusion: Our findings suggest an important role of erythrocyte ARG1 in controlling SMC differentiation and the phenotypic switch to foam cell formation thus promoting vascular lipid accumulation and atherosclerotic lesion progression in vivo.

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