Collagens in the atherosclerotic plaque signal regulation of cell behavior and provide tensile strength to the fibrous cap. Type VIII collagen, a short-chain collagen, is up-regulated in atherosclerosis; however, little is known about its functions in vivo. We studied the response to arterial injury and the development of atherosclerosis in type VIII collagen knockout mice (Col8(-/-) mice). After wire injury of the femoral artery, Col8(-/-) mice had decreased vessel wall thickening and outward remodeling when compared with Col8(+/+) mice. We discovered that apolipoprotein E (ApoE) is an endogenous repressor of the Col8a1 chain, and, therefore, in ApoE knockout mice, type VIII collagen was up-regulated. Deficiency of type VIII collagen in ApoE(-/-) mice (Col8(-/-);ApoE(-/-)) resulted in development of plaques with thin fibrous caps because of decreased smooth muscle cell migration and proliferation and reduced accumulation of fibrillar type I collagen. In contrast, macrophage accumulation was not affected, and the plaques had large lipid-rich necrotic cores. We conclude that in atherosclerosis, type VIII collagen is up-regulated in the absence of ApoE and functions to increase smooth muscle cell proliferation and migration. This is an important mechanism for formation of a thick fibrous cap to protect the atherosclerotic plaque from rupture.
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