Objective: The expression of bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) is enhanced in human atherosclerotic and calcific vascular lesions. Although genetic gain- and loss-of-function experiments in mice have supported a causal role of BMP signaling in atherosclerosis and vascular calcification, it remains uncertain whether BMP signaling might be targeted pharmacologically to ameliorate both of these processes.
Methods and results: We tested the impact of pharmacological BMP inhibition on atherosclerosis and calcification in LDL receptor-deficient (LDLR-/-) mice. LDLR-/- mice fed a high-fat diet developed abundant vascular calcification within 20 weeks. Prolonged treatment of LDLR-/- mice with the small molecule BMP inhibitor LDN-193189 was well-tolerated and potently inhibited development of atheroma, as well as associated vascular inflammation, osteogenic activity, and calcification. Administration of recombinant BMP antagonist ALK3-Fc replicated the antiatherosclerotic and anti-inflammatory effects of LDN-193189. Treatment of human aortic endothelial cells with LDN-193189 or ALK3-Fc abrogated the production of reactive oxygen species induced by oxidized LDL, a known early event in atherogenesis. Unexpectedly, treatment of mice with LDN-193189 lowered LDL serum cholesterol by 35% and markedly decreased hepatosteatosis without inhibiting HMG-CoA reductase activity. Treatment with BMP2 increased, whereas LDN-193189 or ALK3-Fc inhibited apolipoprotein B100 secretion in HepG2 cells, suggesting that BMP signaling contributes to the regulation of cholesterol biosynthesis.
Conclusion: These results definitively implicate BMP signaling in atherosclerosis and calcification, while uncovering a previously unidentified role for BMP signaling in LDL cholesterol metabolism. BMP inhibition may be helpful in the treatment of atherosclerosis and associated vascular calcification.