Background: Fish oil consumption has been associated with a reduced incidence of cardiovascular diseases. However, the precise mechanisms involved are not completely understood. Here we tested the hypothesis that a fish oil-enriched diet improves neovascularization in response to ischemia.
Methods and results: C57Bl/6 mice were fed a diet containing either 20% fish oil, rich in long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), or 20% corn oil, rich in n-6 PUFAs. After 4 weeks, hindlimb ischemia was surgically induced by femoral artery removal. We found that blood flow recovery was significantly improved in mice fed a fish oil diet compared to those fed a corn oil diet (Doppler flow ratio (DFR) at day 21 after surgery 78 ± 5 vs. 56 ± 4; p < 0.01). Clinically, this was associated with a significant reduction of ambulatory impairment and ischemic damage in the fish oil group. At the microvascular level, capillary density was significantly improved in ischemic muscles of mice fed a fish oil diet. This correlated with increased expression of VEGF and eNOS in ischemic muscles, and higher NO concentration in the plasma. Endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) have been shown to have an important role for postnatal neovascularization. We found that the number of EPCs was significantly increased in mice fed a fish oil diet. In addition, oxidative stress levels (DCF-DA, DHE) were reduced in EPCs isolated from mice exposed to fish oil, and this was associated with improved EPC functional activities (migration and integration into tubules). In vitro, treatment of EPCs with fish oil resulted in a significant increase of cellular migration. In addition, the secretion of angiogenic growth factors including IL6 and leptin was significantly increased in EPCs exposed to fish oil.
Conclusion: Fish oil-enriched diet is associated with improved neovascularization in response to ischemia. Potential mechanisms involved include activation of VEGF/NO pathway in ischemic tissues together with an increase in the number and the functional activities of EPCs.
Keywords: Angiogenesis; Endothelial progenitor cells; Fish oil; Neovascularization; Omega-3 fatty acids.
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