Objective: Cholinergic pathways of the autonomic nervous system are known to modulate inflammation. Because atherosclerosis is a chronic inflammatory condition, we tested whether cholinergic signaling operates in this disease. We have analyzed the expression of the α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (α7nAChR) in human atherosclerotic plaques and studied its effects on the development of atherosclerosis in the hypercholesterolemic Ldlr(-/-) mouse model.
Approach and results: α7nAChR protein was detected on T cells and macrophages in surgical specimens of human atherosclerotic plaques. To study the role of α7nAChR signaling in atherosclerosis, male Ldlr(-/-) mice were lethally irradiated and reconstituted with bone marrow from wild-type or α7nAChR-deficient animals. Ablation of hematopoietic cell α7nAChR increased aortic atherosclerosis by 72%. This was accompanied by increased aortic interferon-γ mRNA, implying increased Th1 activity in the absence of α7nAChR signaling.
Conclusions: The present study shows that signaling through hematopoietic α7nAChR inhibits atherosclerosis and suggests that it operates by modulating immune inflammation. Given the observation that α7nAChR is expressed by T cells and macrophages in human plaques, our findings support the notion that cholinergic regulation may act to inhibit disease development also in man.
Keywords: alpha7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor; atherosclerosis; inflammation.
© 2014 American Heart Association, Inc.