Purpose: The major radiobiological issue in determining the rationale for the use of radiation to inhibit vascular restenosis is the identification of the target cell(s) and/or cytokine(s) responsible for neointimal hyperplasia and vascular remodeling. The central hypothesis of this report is that the macrophage/monocyte and PDGF are key elements in the process of neointimal hyperplasia seen following angioplasty, similar to their role in lesion formation and progression found in atherosclerotic thickening. Specific immunohistochemical and cytochemical stains were applied to a rat carotid model in a temporal series after balloon angioplasty to determine macrophage activity vs. smooth muscle cell proliferation, the latter being classically thought to be the cell responsible for restenosis.
Methods and materials: Neointimal hyperplasia was created in an established rat carotid artery model by a balloon catheter technique. Immediately following injury, treatment groups received irradiation via high dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy, the 192Ir source being placed externally to the vessel. Radiation was delivered to a length of 2 cm of the injured vessel at doses of 5, 10, and 15 Gy, and the animals were sacrificed at various time points following treatment (24 h to 6 months). Serial sections of tissue were stained immunohistochemically with the primary antibodies CD11b, mac-1, anti-PDGF, and alpha-smooth muscle actin.
Results: Immediately (24 h) postinjury, there is an apparent migration of macrophages seen in the adventitia; after 1 week, proliferation and migration of macrophages could be seen clearly within all the vessel layers, especially in the intima; by 3 weeks, when there was evidence of neointimal hyperplasia, macrophages could still be seen, mainly in the intima scattered among the smooth muscle cells and myofibroblasts, and to a lesser degree at 6 months. There was corresponding expression of PDGF, whenever and wherever there were zones of activation/neointimal hyperplasia. Alpha-smooth muscle actin staining identified the smooth muscle cells distinct from the macrophages, and these SMCs exhibited activation in the neointimal hyperplasia zones at all later time points. Furthermore, we showed that radiation significantly reduced the macrophage population, while the onset of neointimal hyperplasia was accompanied by a return of the macrophage population.
Conclusion: Our results suggest that the activated adventitial macrophage/monocyte are the key cells responsible for initiating the arterial neointimal hyperplasia and vascular remodeling developing postangioplasty as they are in the initiation and perpetuation of atheromatous thickening. Irradiation delivered immediately postinjury is, therefore, highly effective, because the macrophage population is exquisitely radiosensitive.