Vascular disease is promoted by systemic inflammation that can arise from sites distal to the affected vessels. We sought to characterize the net inflammatory potential of serum from patients with coronary artery disease (CAD) using cultured endothelial cells as a cumulative biosensor.
Methods and results
Serum samples from CAD patients (N = 45) and healthy control subjects (N = 48) were incubated with primary human coronary artery endothelial cells at a 1:10 dilution for 4 h, followed by isolation of the cellular RNA. Alteration of inflammation-responsive elements (adhesion molecules and cytokines) was assessed by gene expression. Specific indicators included intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1), vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1), and interleukin-8 (IL-8). Additionally, the cytokine levels in serum samples from all subjects were quantified. Serum from CAD subjects induced greater endothelial ICAM-1, VCAM-1, and IL-8 expression compared to healthy control serum (p < 0.001 for each analysis). The three indicators of inflammatory potential (ICAM-1, VCAM-1, and IL-8 mRNA) trended independently of each other and also of serum inflammatory biomarkers. IL-8 expression correlated negatively with serum HDL levels but positively correlated with VLDL, plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 and C-reactive protein. Interestingly, serum levels of cytokines in CAD patients were not statistically different from healthy control subjects. A year of follow-up in a sub-group of CAD subjects revealed relatively stable measures.
As yet unidentified circulating factors in the serum of CAD patients appear to activate endothelial cells, leading to upregulation of adhesion molecules and chemokines. This cumulative assay performed well in terms of discriminating patients with CAD compared to healthy subjects, with greater range and specificity than specific inflammatory markers.