Researchers here demonstrate that introducing an antioxidant into the diet, one that accumulates in cell lysosomes, helps to prevent macrophage dysfunction and thus reverse atherosclerotic plaque in an animal model of atherosclerosis. The hypothesis is that oxidized LDL particles, ingested and carried to lysosomes for degradation, are an important component of dysfunction in the macrophage cells responsible for clearing out lipid accumulations in blood vessel walls. Macrophages function well in youth, but are challenged and made dysfunctional in later life by the age-related increase in levels of oxidation of lipids and lipid carriers such as LDL particles. Strategies in clinical use to slow atherosclerosis have so far not directly targeted this challenge of oxidation and macrophage function, which may well be why they are of only limited benefit.
Multiple studies suggest that the presence of lysosomal cholesterol accumulation in macrophages, and not the total amount of intracellular lipids, is critical for the observed inflammatory response. We have shown that lysosomes in macrophages are a site of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) oxidation. Seven days after taking up mechanically aggregated LDL or sphingomyelinase aggregated LDL, mouse or human macrophage-like cells and human monocyte-derived macrophages generated ceroid in their lysosomes. Ceroid (lipofuscin) is a polymerized product of lipid oxidation found within foam cells in atherosclerotic lesions.
The lysosomal oxidation of LDL is catalyzed by oxidation-reduction active iron present in the lysosomes of macrophages through the generation of hydroperoxyl radicals at the lysosomal pH of 4.5. This oxidation is inhibited by cysteamine (2-aminoethanethiol), an antioxidant that accumulates in lysosomes. Cysteamine is used in patients for the lysosomal storage disease cystinosis, caused by the absence of the lysosomal cystine transporter cystinosin. Recently, we have shown that cysteamine reduces atherogenic conditions caused by lysosomal LDL oxidation, such as lysosomal dysfunction, cellular senescence, and secretion of various proinflammatory cytokines, such as interleukin-1β, TNF-α, and interleukin-6, and chemokines, such as CCL2, in human macrophages.
LDL receptor-deficient mice were fed a high-fat diet to induce atherosclerotic lesions. They were then reared on chow diet and drinking water containing cysteamine or plain drinking water. Aortic atherosclerosis was assessed, and samples of liver and skeletal muscle were analyzed. There was no regression of atherosclerosis in the control mice, but cysteamine caused regression of between 32% and 56% compared with the control group, depending on the site of the lesions. Cysteamine substantially increased markers of lesion stability, decreased ceroid, and greatly decreased oxidized phospholipids in the lesions. The liver lipid levels and expression of cluster of differentiation 68, acetyl-coenzyme A acetyltransferase 2, cytochromes P450 (CYP)27, and proinflammatory cytokines and chemokines were decreased by cysteamine. Skeletal muscle function and oxidative fibers were increased by cysteamine. There were no changes in the plasma total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, or triacylglycerol concentrations attributable to cysteamine.
In conclusion, inhibiting the lysosomal oxidation of LDL in atherosclerotic lesions by antioxidants targeted at lysosomes causes the regression of atherosclerosis and improves liver and muscle characteristics in mice and might be a promising novel therapy for atherosclerosis in patients.