Systems Approach to Discovery of Therapeutic Targets for Vein Graft Disease: PPARα Pivotally Regulates Metabolism, Activation, and Heterogeneity of Macrophages and Lesion Development

Circulation. 2021 Jun 22;143(25):2454-2470. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.119.043724. Epub 2021 Apr 6.


Background: Vein graft failure remains a common clinical challenge. We applied a systems approach in mouse experiments to discover therapeutic targets for vein graft failure.

Methods: Global proteomics and high-dimensional clustering on multiple vein graft tissues were used to identify potential pathogenic mechanisms. The PPARs (peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors) pathway served as an example to substantiate our discovery platform. In vivo mouse experiments with macrophage-targeted PPARα small interfering RNA, or the novel, selective activator pemafibrate demonstrate the role of PPARα in the development and inflammation of vein graft lesions. In vitro experiments further included metabolomic profiling, quantitative polymerase chain reaction, flow cytometry, metabolic assays, and single-cell RNA sequencing on primary human and mouse macrophages.

Results: We identified changes in the vein graft proteome associated with immune responses, lipid metabolism regulated by the PPARs, fatty acid metabolism, matrix remodeling, and hematopoietic cell mobilization. PPARα agonism by pemafibrate retarded the development and inflammation of vein graft lesions in mice, whereas gene silencing worsened plaque formation. Pemafibrate also suppressed arteriovenous fistula lesion development. Metabolomics/lipidomics, functional metabolic assays, and single-cell analysis of cultured human macrophages revealed that PPARα modulates macrophage glycolysis, citrate metabolism, mitochondrial membrane sphingolipid metabolism, and heterogeneity.

Conclusions: This study explored potential drivers of vein graft inflammation and identified PPARα as a novel potential pharmacological treatment for this unmet medical need.

Keywords: arteriovenous; fistula; inflammation; macrophage; pemafibrate; proteomics; systems biology; vein graft.