Lipid accumulation in arterial smooth muscle cells

Influence of phenotype
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      Isolated smooth muscle cells from the adult pig and rabbit aorta in primary culture undergo a spontaneous change in phenotype from a contractile to a synthetic state over 6–8 days, losing their capacity to contract and gaining the capacity to divide. The change in smooth muscle phenotype to the synthetic state is accompanied by distinct changes in the cells' ability to metabolize LDL, with the rate of degradation of 125I-labelled LDL decreasing to about one fifth of the level in contractile state cells. This does not appear to be due to changes in the number or affinity of LDL receptors since saturable binding of LDL is unaltered. The specific activities of the lysosomal enzymes acid phosphatase and N-acetyl-β-glucosamini-dase increase with change to the synthetic state as do cytochrome c oxidase (mitochondria) and NADPH-dependent cytochrome c reductase (endoplasmic reticulum). In contrast there is a slight but not significant decrease in the specific activity of the lysosomal enzyme acid cholesteryl esterase of rabbit smooth muscle cells and a significant decrease in the activity of pig cells with change in phenotype to the synthetic state. Significantly more [3H]cholesteryl oleate is recovered in synthetic state than in contractile state cells following incubation with 20 tug/ml unlabelled LDL and [3H]sodium oleate. Morphologically there is no difference in the number of lipid droplets in contractile and synthetic state cells after incubation in 5% normolipemic serum, but in cells grown in 10% hyperlipemic serum for 4 days synthetic state cells become almost completely filled with lipid droplets while contractile state cells are unaffected. Lipid accumulation also occurs selectively in vivo in synthetic is compared with contractile state smooth muscle cells within intimal fibromuscular thickening induced by de-endothelialization of the carotid artery of cholesterol-fed rabbits.
      We suggest that accumulation of lipid in smooth muscles cells of atherosclerotic plaques is related to reduced catabolism of LDL following smooth muscle phenotypic change from the contractile to synthetic state.



      DIT = diffuse intimal thickening (), FCS = foetal calf serum (), IC = intimal cushion (), LDL = low density lipoprotein (), LDS= lipoprotein-deficient serum (), RER = rough endoplasmic reticulum ()
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