A robust rabbit model of human atherosclerosis and atherothrombosis

J Lipid Res. 2009 May;50(5):787-97. doi: 10.1194/jlr.M800460-JLR200. Epub 2009 Jan 12.


Disruption and thrombosis of atherosclerotic plaques cause most acute cardiovascular events, but their systematic study has been hampered by the lack of suitable animal models. To assess the value of a modified rabbit model of atherothrombosis, we performed detailed histology of rabbit aortic plaques. Atherosclerosis was induced with a high cholesterol diet fed 2 weeks prior to and 6 weeks after balloon injury of the aorta, followed by 4 weeks of normal diet. We found six out of eight types of plaques cataloged by the American Heart Association in the rabbit aorta. Vulnerable plaques were defined as those with attached platelet and fibrin-rich thrombi after pharmacological triggering with Russell's viper venom and histamine. Ruptured plaques had, as also described for human plaques: i) marked medial and adventitial changes, including neovascularization and inflammation; ii) cholesterol monohydrate crystals and liquid crystalline cholesterol esters in the intima and the fibrous cap; and iii) inflamed, thin fibrous caps. Increased cholesterol monohydrate area, internal elastic lamina area, positive remodeling, fibrous cap inflammation, adventitia breakdown, and inflammation were independent predictors of plaque disruption. Our findings reveal novel insights into plaque vulnerability and could guide the design of noninvasive imaging approaches for detecting and treating high-risk plaques.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aorta / anatomy & histology
  • Aorta / pathology
  • Atherosclerosis* / pathology
  • Atherosclerosis* / physiopathology
  • Cholesterol Esters / metabolism
  • Coronary Thrombosis* / pathology
  • Coronary Thrombosis* / physiopathology
  • Diet
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Rabbits


  • Cholesterol Esters