Background: Oxidative stress is thought to play an important role in atherogenesis, suggesting that antioxidants could prevent coronary artery disease. However, the efficacy of vitamin C in reducing atherosclerosis is debatable in humans and has not been tested rigorously in animals.
Methods and results: Gulo(-/-)Apoe(-/-) mice were used to test a hypothesis that chronic vitamin C deficiency enhances the initiation and development of atherosclerosis. These mice are dependent on dietary vitamin C because of the lack of L-gulonolactone-gamma-oxidase and are prone to develop atherosclerosis because of lacking apolipoprotein E. Beginning at 6 weeks of age, the Gulo(-/-)Apoe(-/-) mice were fed regular chow or Western-type diets containing high fat and supplemented with either 0.033 g or 3.3 g/L of vitamin C in their drinking water. This regimen produced mice with chronically low vitamin C (average 1.5 microg/mL in plasma) or high vitamin C (average 10 to 30 microg/mL in plasma). Morphometric analysis showed that within each sex, age, and diet group, the sizes of the atherosclerotic plaques were not different between low vitamin C mice and high vitamin C mice. However, advanced plaques in the low vitamin C mice had significantly reduced amounts of Sirius red-staining collagen (36.4+/-2.2% versus 54.8+/-2.3%, P<0.0001), larger necrotic cores within the plaques, and reduced fibroproliferation and neovascularization in the aortic adventitia.
Conclusions: Chronic vitamin C deficiency does not influence the initiation or progression of atherosclerotic plaques but severely compromises collagen deposition and induces a type of plaque morphology that is potentially vulnerable to rupture.