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BACKGROUND: Studies from our laboratory have shown that the earliest stages of atherosclerosis may be mediated by an autoimmune reaction against heat shock protein 60 (Hsp60). The interactions of Hsp60-specific T cells with arterial endothelial cells (EC) require expression of both Hsp60 and certain adhesion molecules shown to be induced simultaneously in EC by mechanical and other types of stress. Recently, it was shown that suppression of T cell-mediated immune responses by cyclosporin A (CyA) enhanced atherosclerotic lesion formation in mice. In contrast, aspirin was found to lower the risk of myocardial infarction in men. These conflicting observations may be due to different effects of anti-inflammatory agents on adhesion molecule and Hsp expression in EC, respectively. MATERIAL AND METHODS: In the present study, we analyzed the effects of CyA, aspirin, and indomethacin on T cell proliferation using a proliferation assay. To explore the expression of adhesion molecules, monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1), and Hsp60 in human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs), Northern blot analyses were used. To examine the activation status of the transcription factors nuclear factor kappaB (NF-kappaB) and heat shock factor-1 (HSF-1), electrophoretic mobility shift assays were performed. RESULTS: With the exception of indomethacin, the used immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory agents significantly inhibited T cell proliferation in response to influenza virus antigen in a dose-dependent manner. Interestingly, CyA and indomethacin did not suppress tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha)-induced adhesion molecule expression on HUVECs, whereas aspirin had an inhibitory effect. These observations correlated with the modulation of NF-kappaB activity in EC. All agents tested induced expression of Hsp60 6 hr after application. In addition, aspirin and indomethacin, but not CyA, induced Hsp70 expression in HUVECs that correlated with induction of HSF-1 activity. CONCLUSION: Our results show that the tested agents (except indomethacin) are inhibitors of the T cell-mediated immune response, as expected, that aspirin is an effective suppressor of adhesion molecule expression, and that all three agents can induce Hsp60 in HUVECs. These data provide the molecular basis for the notion that (1) part of the anti-atherogenic effect of aspirin may be due to the prevention of the adhesion of sensitized T cells to stressed EC; (2) that part of the atherosclerosis-promoting effect of CyA may be due to its potential as an inducer of Hsp60 expression and its inability to down-regulate adhesion molecule expression on EC; and (3) that down-regulation of MCP-1 expression by aspirin may result in decreased recruitment of monocytes into the arterial intima beneath stressed EC.