Theranostics 2023; 13(9):2914-2929. doi:10.7150/thno.83914 This issue Cite
1. Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, College of Medicine, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, Arkansas, USA.
2. Department of Biomedical Informatics, College of Medicine, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, Arkansas, USA.
3. Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, College of Pharmacy, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, Arkansas, USA.
4. Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, College of Medicine, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, Arkansas, USA.
Aims: Proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9) is a serine protease that binds to low-density lipoprotein receptors. Efferocytosis is the process by which phagocytes remove apoptotic cells. Both PCSK9 and efferocytosis play important roles in regulating redox biology and inflammation, the key factors contributing to vascular aging. This study was designed to investigate the impact of PCSK9 on efferocytosis in endothelial cells (ECs) and its implications in vascular aging.
Methods and Results: Studies were performed in primary human aortic ECs (HAECs) and primary mouse aortic ECs (MAECs) isolated from male wild-type (WT) and PCSK9-/- mice, and in young and aged mice treated with saline or the PCSK9 inhibitor Pep2-8. Our findings include that recombinant PCSK9 protein induces defective efferocytosis and aging marker senescence-associated-β-galactosidase (SA-β-gal) expression in ECs, while PCSK9-/- restores efferocytosis and inhibits SA-β-gal activity. Further studies in aged mice showed that endothelial deficiency of MerTK, a critical receptor for efferocytosis that allows phagocytes to detect the presence of apoptotic cells, may be an indicator of vascular dysfunction in the aortic arch. Pep2-8 treatment markedly restored efferocytosis in endothelium from the aged mice. A proteomics study in the aortic arch from aged mice revealed that Pep2-8 administration significantly downregulates expression of NOX4, MAPK subunits, NF-κB, and secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines, all known to promote vascular aging. Immunofluorescent staining showed that Pep2-8 administration upregulates expression of eNOS and downregulates expression of pro-IL-1β, NF-κB and p22phox compared to saline treated group.
Conclusions: These findings provide initial evidence for the ability of aortic ECs to accomplish efferocytosis and argue for a role of PCSK9 in attenuating EC efferocytosis, thereby leading to vascular dysfunction and acceleration in vascular aging.
Keywords: PCSK9, endothelial cells, efferocytosis, vascular aging