SMAD4 Expression in Monocytes as a Potential Biomarker for Atherosclerosis Risk in Patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Int J Mol Sci. 2023 Apr 26;24(9):7900. doi: 10.3390/ijms24097900.


Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) patients are at special risk of suffering atherosclerosis, leading to major cardiovascular diseases. Notably, the transforming growth factor (TGF-β) plays a crucial role in the development and progression of atherosclerosis. In this context, the central regulator of TGF-β pathway, SMAD4 (small mother against decapentaplegic homolog 4), has been previously reported to be augmented in OSA patients, which levels were even higher in patients with concomitant cardiometabolic diseases. Here, we analyzed soluble and intracellular SMAD4 levels in plasma and monocytes from OSA patients and non-apneic subjects, with or without early subclinical atherosclerosis (eSA). In addition, we used in vitro and ex vivo models to explore the mechanisms underlying SMAD4 upregulation and release. Our study confirmed elevated sSMAD4 levels in OSA patients and identified that its levels were even higher in those OSA patients with eSA. Moreover, we demonstrated that SMAD4 is overexpressed in OSA monocytes and that intermittent hypoxia contributes to SMAD4 upregulation and release in a process mediated by NLRP3. In conclusion, this study highlights the potential role of sSMAD4 as a biomarker for atherosclerosis risk in OSA patients and provides new insights into the mechanisms underlying its upregulation and release to the extracellular space.

Keywords: HIF1α; NLRP3; OSA; SMAD4; TF; TGF-β; atherosclerosis; hypoxia; inflammation.

MeSH terms

  • Atherosclerosis* / metabolism
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / metabolism
  • Monocytes / metabolism
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive*
  • Smad4 Protein / genetics
  • Smad4 Protein / metabolism


  • Biomarkers
  • SMAD4 protein, human
  • Smad4 Protein