Induction of the unfolded protein response after monocyte to macrophage differentiation augments cell survival in early atherosclerotic lesions
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Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress causes macrophage cell death within advanced atherosclerotic lesions, thereby contributing to necrotic core formation and increasing the risk of atherothrombotic disease. However, unlike in advanced lesions, the appearance of dead/apoptotic macrophages in early lesions is less prominent. Given that activation of the unfolded protein response (UPR) is detected in early lesion-resident macrophages and can enhance cell survival against ER stress, we investigated whether UPR activation occurs after monocyte to macrophage differentiation and confers a cytoprotective advantage to the macrophage. Human peripheral blood monocytes were treated with monocyte colony-stimulating factor to induce macrophage differentiation, as assessed by changes in ultrastructure and scavenger receptor expression. UPR markers, including GRP78, GRP94, and spliced XBP-1, were induced after macrophage differentiation and occurred after a significant increase in de novo protein synthesis. UPR activation after differentiation reduced macrophage cell death by ER stress-inducing agents. Further, GRP78 overexpression in macrophages was sufficient to reduce ER stress-induced cell death. Consistent with these in vitro findings, UPR activation was observed in viable lesion-resident macrophages from human carotid arteries and from the aortas of apoE(-/-) mice. However, no evidence of apoptosis was observed in early lesion-resident macrophages from the aortas of apoE(-/-) mice. Thus, our findings that UPR activation occurs during macrophage differentiation and is cytoprotective against ER stress-inducing agents suggest an important cellular mechanism for macrophage survival within early atherosclerotic lesions.
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