Abstract 593: Hypoxia is Present in the Macrophage-rich Center of Human Carotid Atherosclerotic Plaques
Intraplaque neovascularization is linked to plaque instability and thought to be stimulated by hypoxia. However, hypoxia has not been demonstrated yet in human atherosclerosis. The hypoxia marker pimonidazole was administrated intravenously 2 hours prior to carotid endarterectomy in 6 symptomatic patients to evaluate the presence of hypoxia. Subsequent immunohistochemistry of the operatively removed atherosclerotic plaques demonstrated the presence of hypoxia, especially in the macrophage-rich center of the lesions. Notably, two hypoxic gradients were observed:
hypoxia was very strong in the center of the plaque, but almost absent close to the main artery lumen and in the media.
hypoxia was most intense in segments with advanced atheroma and almost absent in segments containing only diffuse intimal thickening.
Hypoxia strongly correlated with CD68 immunoreactivity (ρ= 0.7, p=0.000), neovascularization (ρ= 0.6, p=0.000) and the presence of a thrombus (ρ= 0.4, p=0.009). In addition, hypoxia co-localized with expression of HIF1α and VEGF . To exclude that pimonidazole immunoreactivity in the atherosclerotic plaque was the result of surgery-induced ischemia, arterial wall segments were collected at two time-points: directly after incision of the carotid artery and directly following excision of the plaque. Pimonidazole immunoreactivity in these two pieces was not different, suggesting that hypoxia and pimonidazole adducts were already present in the plaques before surgery . To show that pimonidazole reactivity was hypoxia-specific and independent of reactive oxygen species, human THP-1 macrophages were exposed to normoxia (20% O2), hypoxia (0.2% O2) and/or H2O2 (100 μM) in the presence of pimonidazole. Indeed, flow cytometry only showed pimonidazole-positive cells after hypoxic exposure. This is the first study proving direct evidence of the existence of hypoxia in advanced human atherosclerotic lesions, most prominently in the macrophage-rich center. Also, hypoxia was associated with the expression of HIF1α, VEGF and intraplaque microvessels, suggesting its involvement in the regulation of human intraplaque neovascularization.