By using proteomics we isolated and identified proteins that were expressed/retained in stable and unstable human carotid artery atherosclerotic plaques.
The criteria for plaque instability were the presence of a thin fibrous cap or fissured cap covering the foamy or necrotic core, and the presence of overt, hemorrhagic, ulcerated or thrombotic plaques. Proteins were extracted from finely minced endarterectomy specimens (19 stable, 29 unstable plaques) and separated by 2-dimensional gel electrophoresis. Coomassie Blue-stained gels were analysed using PD-Quest software.
A total of 57 distinct spots corresponding to 33 different proteins were identified by matrix assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry using the NCBI database. Most of the spots were present in both types of extracts, although significantly (p<0.05) differing in abundance between them. Compared to stable plaque, unstable ones showed reduced abundance of: protective enzymes SOD3 and GST, small heat shock proteins HSP27 and HSP20, annexin A10, and Rho GDI. In unstable plaques the more abundant proteins were: ferritin light subunit, SOD 2 and fibrinogen fragment D. For fibrinogen fragment D, the increased levels in unstable versus stable plaques was confirmed by Western blot analysis.
Since many of the differentially expressed proteins are known to have a functional role in inflammation and oxidative stress, we speculate that they may be involved in events relating to plaque stability.