Rationale: Obstructive sleep apnea, a condition leading to chronic intermittent hypoxia (CIH), is associated with hyperlipidemia, atherosclerosis, and a high cardiovascular risk. A causal link between obstructive sleep apnea and atherosclerosis has not been established.
Objectives: The objective of the present study was to examine whether CIH may induce atherosclerosis in C57BL/6J mice.
Methods: Forty male C57BL/6J mice, 8 weeks of age, were fed either a high-cholesterol diet or a regular chow diet and subjected either to CIH or intermittent air (control conditions) for 12 weeks.
Measurements and main results: Nine of 10 mice simultaneously exposed to CIH and high-cholesterol diet developed atherosclerotic lesions in the aortic origin and descending aorta. In contrast, atherosclerosis was not observed in mice exposed to intermittent air and a high-cholesterol diet or in mice exposed to CIH and a regular diet. A high-cholesterol diet resulted in significant increases in serum total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels and a decrease in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Compared with mice exposed to intermittent air and a high-cholesterol diet, combined exposure to CIH and a high-cholesterol diet resulted in marked progression of dyslipidemia with further increases in serum total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (124 +/- 4 vs. 106 +/- 6 mg/dl; p < 0.05), a twofold increase in serum lipid peroxidation, and up-regulation of an important hepatic enzyme of lipoprotein secretion, stearoyl-coenzyme A desaturase-1.
Conclusions: CIH causes atherosclerosis in the presence of diet-induced dyslipidemia.