The retention of lipoproteins in the arterial intima is an initial event in early atherosclerosis and occurs, in part, through interactions between negatively charged glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) and the positively charged residues of apolipoproteins. Smooth muscle cells (SMCs) which infiltrate into the lipoprotein-enriched intima have been observed to transform into lipid-laden foam cells. This phenotypic switch is associated with SMC acquisition of a macrophage-like capacity to phagocytose lipoproteins and/or of an adipocyte-like capacity to synthesize fatty acids de novo. The aim of the present work was to explore the impact of GAG identity on SMC foam cell formation using a scaffold environment intended to be mimetic of early atherosclerosis. In these studies, we focused on chondroitin sulfate C (CSC), dermatan sulfate (DS), and an intermediate molecular weight hyaluronan (HAIMW, ∼400 kDa), the levels and/or distribution of each of which are significantly altered in atherosclerosis. DS hydrogels were associated with greater SMC phagocytosis of apolipoprotein B than HAIMW gels. Similarly, only SMCs in DS constructs maintained increased expression of the adipocyte marker A-FABP relative to HAIMW gels over 35 days of culture. The increased SMC foam cell phenotype in DS hydrogels was reflected in a corresponding decrease in SMC myosin heavy chain expression in these constructs relative to HA IMW gels at day 35. In addition, this DS-associated increase in foam cell formation was mirrored in an increased SMC synthetic phenotype, as evidenced by greater levels of collagen type I and glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase in DS gels than in HAIMW gels. Combined, these results support the increasing body of literature that suggests a critical role for DS-bearing proteoglycans in early atherosclerosis.
- Foam cell formation
- Smooth muscle cells