Objective: vMIP-II (viral macrophage inflammatory protein 2)/vCCL2 (viral chemotactic cytokine ligand 2) binds to multiple chemokine receptors, and vMIP-II-based positron emission tomography tracer (64Cu-DOTA-vMIP-II: vMIP-II tracer) accumulates at atherosclerotic lesions in mice. Given that it would be expected to react with multiple chemokine receptors on monocytes and macrophages, we wondered if its accumulation in atherosclerosis lesion-bearing mice might correlate with overall macrophage burden or, alternatively, the pace of monocyte recruitment. Approach and Results: We employed a mouse model of atherosclerosis regression involving adenoassociated virus 8 vector encoding murine Apoe (AAV-mApoE) treatment of Apoe-/- mice where the pace of monocyte recruitment slows before macrophage burden subsequently declines. Accumulation of 64Cu-DOTA-vMIP-II at Apoe-/- plaque sites was strong but declined with AAV-mApoE-induced decline in monocyte recruitment, before macrophage burden reduced. Monocyte depletion indicated that monocytes and macrophages themselves were not the only target of the 64Cu-DOTA-vMIP-II tracer. Using fluorescence-tagged vMIP-II tracer, competitive receptor blocking with CXCR4 antagonists, endothelial-specific Cre-mediated deletion of CXCR4, CXCR4-specific tracer 64Cu-DOTA-FC131, and CXCR4 staining during disease progression and regression, we show endothelial cell expression of CXCR4 is a key target of 64Cu-DOTA-vMIP-II imaging. Expression of CXCR4 was low in nonplaque areas but strongly detected on endothelium of progressing plaques, especially on proliferating endothelium, where vascular permeability was increased and monocyte recruitment was the strongest.
Conclusions: Endothelial injury status of plaques is marked by CXCR4 expression and this injury correlates with the tendency of such plaques to recruit monocytes. Furthermore, our findings suggest positron emission tomography tracers that mark CXCR4 can be used translationally to monitor the state of plaque injury and monocyte recruitment.
Keywords: atherosclerosis; endothelial cells; fluorescence; monocyte; receptor, chemokine.