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BACKGROUND: Chemokine receptors on leukocytes play a key role in inflammation and HIV-1 infection. Chemokine receptors on endothelia may serve an important role in HIV-1 tissue invasion and angiogenesis. MATERIALS AND METHODS: The expression of chemokine receptors in human brain microvascular endothelial cells (BMVEC) and coronary artery endothelial cells (CAEC) in vitro and cryostat sections of the heart tissue was determined by light and confocal microscopy and flow cytometry with monoclonal antibodies. Chemotaxis of endothelia by CC chemokines was evaluated in a transmigration assay. RESULTS: In BMVEC, the chemokine receptors CCR3 and CXCR4 showed the strongest expression. CXCR4 was localized by confocal microscopy to both the cytoplasm and the plasma membrane of BMVEC. In CAEC, CXCR4 demonstrated a strong expression with predominantly periplasmic localization. CCR5 expression was detected both in BMVEC and CAEC but at a lower level. Human umbilical cord endothelial cells (HUVEC) expressed strongly CXCR4 but only weakly CCR3 and CCR5. Two additional CC chemokines, CCR2A and CCR4, were detected in BMVEC and CAEC by immunostaining. Immunocytochemistry of the heart tissues with monoclonal antibodies revealed a high expression of CXCR4 and CCR2A and a low expression of CCR3 and CCR5 on coronary vessel endothelia. Coronary endothelia showed in vitro a strong chemotactic response to the CC chemokines RANTES, MIP-1alpha, and MIP-1beta. CONCLUSIONS: The endothelia isolated from the brain display strongly both the CCR3 and CXCR4 HIV-1 coreceptors, whereas the coronary endothelia express strongly only the CXCR4 coreceptor. CCR5 is expressed at a lower level in both endothelia. The differential display of CCR3 on the brain and coronary endothelia could be significant with respect to the differential susceptibility of the heart and the brain to HIV-1 invasion. In addition, CCR2A is strongly expressed in the heart endothelium. All of the above chemokine receptors could play a role in endothelial migration and repair.