Proteoglycan distribution in the intima and media of the aortas of young and aging rabbits: an ultrastructural study
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Aortas from normal healthy rabbits, approx. 3 months old, were examined by light and transmission electron microscopy. The proteoglycan of the extracellular matrix, which was stained by ruthenium red and appeared as granules by transmission electron microscopy, was quantitated morphometrically in the intima and the superficial media. The intima included areas which were thickened and which contained connective tissue, including proteoglycan, and some smooth muscle cells. In the thickened intima there was a greater proportion of extracellular space which was occupied by proteoglycan, and the proteoglycan was present in higher concentration than in the media. In the aortas of rabbits, approx. 2 years old, the extent of intimal thickening and the concentration of proteoglycan increased in the thickened intima but there was no evidence of extracellular lipid deposition. The endothelial basement membrane contained small proteoglycan granules (heparan sulphate) which decreased in concentration in older animals. It is possible that the accumulation of proteoglycan in the thickened intima increases the susceptibility of the intima to accumulate lipid following an additional stimulus, such as hyperlipaemia, in the initial stages of atherosclerosis.
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