Low-level endotoxemia has been identified as a powerful risk factor for atherosclerosis. However, little is known about the mechanisms that regulate endotoxin responsiveness in vascular cells. We conducted experiments to compare the relative responses of human coronary artery endothelial cells (HCAEC) and smooth muscle cells (HCASMC) to very low levels of endotoxin, and to elucidate the mechanisms that regulate endotoxin responsiveness in vascular cells. Endotoxin (≤1 ng/ml) caused production of chemotactic cytokines in HCAEC. Endotoxin-induced cytokine production was maximal at LPS-binding protein:soluble CD14 ratios <1, typically observed in individuals with subclinical infection; higher LPS-binding protein:soluble CD14 ratios were inhibitory. Endotoxin potently activated HCASMC, with cytokine release >10-fold higher in magnitude at >10-fold lower threshold concentrations (10-30 pg/ml) compared with HCAEC. This remarkable sensitivity of HCASMC to very low endotoxin concentrations, comparable to that found in circulating monocytes, was not due to differential expression of TLR4, which was detected in HCAEC, HCASMC, and intact coronary arteries. Surprisingly, membrane-bound CD14 was detected in seven different lines of HCASMC, conferring responsiveness to endotoxin and to lipoteichoic acid, a product of Gram-positive bacteria, in these cells. These results suggest that the low levels of endotoxin associated with increased risk for atherosclerosis are sufficient to produce inflammatory responses in coronary artery cells. Because CD14 recognizes a diverse array of inflammatory mediators and functions as a pattern recognition molecule in inflammatory cells, expression of membrane-bound CD14 in HCASMC implies a potentially broader role for these cells in transducing innate immune responses in the vasculature.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Immunology and Allergy