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1.  Deficiency of CCAAT/Enhancer Binding Protein-Epsilon Reduces Atherosclerotic Lesions in LDLR−/− Mice 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e85341.
The CCAAT/enhancer binding proteins (C/EBPs) are transcription factors involved in hematopoietic cell development and induction of several inflammatory mediators. C/EBPε is expressed only in myeloid cells including monocytes/macrophages. Atherosclerosis is an inflammatory disorder of the vascular wall and circulating immune cells such as monocytes/macrophages. Mice deficient in the low density lipoprotein (LDL) receptor (Ldlr−/−) fed on a high cholesterol diet (HCD) show elevated blood cholesterol levels and are widely used as models to study human atherosclerosis. In this study, we generated Ldlr and Cebpe double-knockout (llee) mice and compared their atherogenic phenotypes to Ldlr single deficient (llEE) mice after HCD. Macrophages from llee mice have reduced lipid uptake by foam cells and impaired phagokinetic motility in vitro compared to macrophages from llEE mice. Also, compared to llEE mice, llee mice have alterations of lipid metabolism, and reduced atheroma and obesity, particularly the males. Peritoneal macrophages of llee male mice have reduced mRNA expression of FABP4, a fatty acid binding protein implicated in atherosclerosis. Overall, our study suggests that the myeloid specific factor C/EBPε is involved in systemic lipid metabolism and that silencing of C/EBPε could decrease the development of atherosclerosis.
PMCID: PMC3904867  PMID: 24489659
2.  Genetic Control of High Density Lipoprotein (HDL)-Cholesterol in AcB/BcA Recombinant Congenic Strains of Mice 
Physiological genomics  2012;44(17):843-852.
Epidemiological studies show that high HDL-cholesterol (HDLc) decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease. To map genes controlling lipid metabolism, particularly HDLc levels, we screened the plasma lipids of 36 AcB/BcA RC mouse strains subjected to either a normal or a high-fat/cholesterol diet. Strains BcA68 and AcB65 showed deviant HDLc plasma levels compared to the parental A/J and C57BL/6J strains; they were thus selected to generate informative F2 crosses. Linkage analyses in the AcB65 strain identified a locus on chromosome 4 (Hdlq78) responsible for high post-high-fat diet HDLc levels. This locus has been previously associated at genome wide significance to two regions in the human genome. A second linkage analysis in strain BcA68 identified linkage in the vicinity of a gene cluster known to control HDLc levels. Sequence analysis of these candidates identified a de novo, loss of function mutation in the ApoA1 gene of BcA68, which prematurely truncates the ApoA1 protein. The possibility of dissecting the specific effects of this new ApoA1 deficiency in the context of isogenic controls makes the BcA68 mouse a valuable new tool.
PMCID: PMC3888445  PMID: 22805347 CAMSID: cams3809
mouse model; lipid profiles; genome-wide linkage analysis; de novo mutation in ApoA1
3.  Genetic Control of Obesity and Gut Microbiota Composition in Response to High-Fat, High-Sucrose Diet in Mice 
Cell metabolism  2013;17(1):141-152.
Obesity is a highly heritable disease driven by complex interactions between genetic and environmental factors. Human genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified a number of loci contributing to obesity; however, a major limitation of these studies is the inability to assess environmental interactions common to obesity. Using a systems genetics approach, we measured obesity traits, global gene expression, and gut microbiota composition in response to a high-fat/high-sucrose (HF/HS) diet of more than 100 inbred strains of mice. Here we show that HF/HS feeding promotes robust, strain-specific changes in obesity that is not accounted for by food intake and provide evidence for a genetically determined set-point for obesity. GWAS analysis identified 11 genome-wide significant loci associated with obesity traits, several of which overlap with loci identified in human studies. We also show strong relationships between genotype and gut microbiota plasticity during HF/HS feeding and identify gut microbial phylotypes associated with obesity.
PMCID: PMC3545283  PMID: 23312289
4.  The effect of 9p21.3 coronary artery disease locus neighboring genes on atherosclerosis in mice 
Circulation  2012;126(15):1896-1906.
The human 9p21.3 chromosome locus has been shown to be an independent risk factor for atherosclerosis in multiple large scale genome-wide association studies, but the underlying mechanism remains unknown. We set out to investigate the potential role of the 9p21.3 locus neighboring genes, including Mtap, the two isoforms of Cdkn2a, p16Ink4a and p19Arf, and Cdkn2b in atherosclerosis using knockout mice models.
Methods and Results
Gene targeted mice for neighboring genes, including Mtap, Cdkn2a, p19Arf, and Cdkn2b, were each bred to mice carrying the human APO*E3 Leiden transgene which sensitizes the mice for atherosclerotic lesions through elevated plasma cholesterol. We found that the mice heterozygous for Mtap developed larger lesion compared to wild-type mice (49623±21650 vs. 18899±9604 μm2/section (Mean±SD); p=0.01), with similar morphology as wild type mice. The Mtap heterozygous mice demonstrated changes in metabolic and methylation profiles and CD4+ cell counts. The Cdkn2a knockout mice had smaller lesions compared to wild-type and heterozygous mice and there were no significant differences in lesion size in p19Arf and Cdkn2b mutants as compared to wild type. We observed extensive, tissue-specific compensatory regulation of the Cdkn2a and Cdkn2b genes among the various knockout mice, making the effects on atherosclerosis difficult to interpret.
Mtap plays a protective role against atherosclerosis, whereas Cdkn2a appears to be modestly proatherogenic. However, no relation was found between the 9p21 genotype and the transcription of 9p21 neighboring genes in primary human aortic vascular cells in vitro. There is extensive compensatory regulation in the highly conserved 9p21 orthologous region in mice.
PMCID: PMC3608429  PMID: 22952318
Atherosclerosis; 9p21 risk locus; Gene targeted mice; Methylthioadenosine Phosphorylase
5.  LXRα is uniquely required for maximal reverse cholesterol transport and atheroprotection in ApoE-deficient mice[S] 
Journal of Lipid Research  2012;53(6):1126-1133.
The liver X receptor (LXR) signaling pathway is an important modulator of atherosclerosis, but the relative importance of the two LXRs in atheroprotection is incompletely understood. We show here that LXRα, the dominant LXR isotype expressed in liver, plays a particularly important role in whole-body sterol homeostasis. In the context of the ApoE−/− background, deletion of LXRα, but not LXRβ, led to prominent increases in atherosclerosis and peripheral cholesterol accumulation. However, combined loss of LXRα and LXRβ on the ApoE−/− background led to an even more severe cholesterol accumulation phenotype compared to LXRα−/−ApoE−/− mice, indicating that LXRβ does contribute to reverse cholesterol transport (RCT) but that this contribution is quantitatively less important than that of LXRα. Unexpectedly, macrophages did not appear to underlie the differential phenotype of LXRα−/−ApoE−/− and LXRβ−/−ApoE−/− mice, as in vitro assays revealed no difference in the efficiency of cholesterol efflux from isolated macrophages. By contrast, in vivo assays of RCT using exogenously labeled macrophages revealed a marked defect in fecal sterol efflux in LXRα−/−ApoE−/− mice. Mechanistically, this defect was linked to a specific requirement for LXRα−/− in the expression of hepatic LXR target genes involved in sterol transport and metabolism. These studies reveal a previously unrecognized requirement for hepatic LXRα for optimal reverse cholesterol transport in mice.
PMCID: PMC3351819  PMID: 22454476
atherosclerosis; nuclear receptor; cholesterol metabolism; apoliporotein
6.  A Systems Genetic Analysis of High Density Lipoprotein Metabolism and Network Preservation across Mouse Models 
Biochimica et Biophysica Acta  2011;1821(3):435-447.
We report a systems genetics analysis of high density lipoproteins (HDL) levels in an F2 intercross between inbred strains CAST/EiJ and C57BL/6J. We previously showed that there are dramatic differences in HDL metabolism in a cross between these strains, and we now report co-expression network analysis of HDL that integrates global expression data from liver and adipose with relevant metabolic traits. Using data from a total of 293 F2 intercross mice, we constructed weighted gene co-expression networks and identified modules (subnetworks) associated with HDL and clinical traits. These were examined for genes implicated in HDL levels based on large human genome-wide associations studies (GWAS) and examined with respect to conservation between tissue and sexes in a total of 9 data sets. We identify genes that are consistently ranked high by association with HDL across the 9 data sets. We focus in particular on two genes, Wfdc2 and Hdac3, that are located in close proximity to HDL QTL peaks where causal testing indicates that they may affect HDL. Our results provide a rich resource for studies of complex metabolic interactions involving HDL.
PMCID: PMC3265689  PMID: 21807117
7.  NF-E2–Related Factor 2 Promotes Atherosclerosis by Effects on Plasma Lipoproteins and Cholesterol Transport That Overshadow Antioxidant Protection 
To test the hypothesis that NF-E2–related factor 2 (Nrf2) expression plays an antiatherogenic role by its vascular antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Methods and Results
Nrf2 is an important transcription factor that regulates the expression of phase 2 detoxifying enzymes and antioxidant genes. Its expression in vascular cells appears to be an important factor in the protection against vascular oxidative stress and inflammation. We developed Nrf2 heterozygous (HET) and homozygous knockout (KO) mice on an apolipoprotein (apo) E–null background by sequential breeding, resulting in Nrf2−/−, apoE−/− (KO), Nrf2−/+, apoE−/− (HET) and Nrf2+/+, and apoE−/− wild-type littermates. KO mice exhibited decreased levels of antioxidant genes with evidence of increased reactive oxygen species generation compared with wild-type controls. Surprisingly, KO males exhibited 47% and 53% reductions in the degree of aortic atherosclerosis compared with HET or wild-type littermates, respectively. Decreased atherosclerosis in KO mice correlated with lower plasma total cholesterol in a sex-dependent manner. KO mice also had a decreased hepatic cholesterol content and a lower expression of lipogenic genes, suggesting that hepatic lipogenesis could be reduced. In addition, KO mice exhibited atherosclerotic plaques characterized by a lesser macrophage component and decreased foam cell formation in an in vitro lipid-loading assay. This was associated with a lower rate of cholesterol influx, mediated in part by decreased expression of the scavenger receptor CD36.
Nrf2 expression unexpectedly promotes atherosclerotic lesion formation in a sex-dependent manner, most likely by a combination of systemic metabolic and local vascular effects.
PMCID: PMC3037185  PMID: 20947826
atherosclerosis; cytokines; lipoproteins; reactive oxygen species; foam cell formation; lipogenesis; Nrf2
8.  Early Hepatic Insulin Resistance Precedes the Onset of Diabetes in Obese C57BLKS-db/db Mice 
Diabetes  2010;59(7):1616-1625.
To identify metabolic derangements contributing to diabetes susceptibility in the leptin receptor–deficient obese C57BLKS/J-db/db (BKS-db) mouse strain.
Young BKS-db mice were used to identify metabolic pathways contributing to the development of diabetes. Using the diabetes-resistant B6-db strain as a comparison, in vivo and in vitro approaches were applied to identify metabolic and molecular differences between the two strains.
Despite higher plasma insulin levels, BKS-db mice exhibit lower lipogenic gene expression, rate of lipogenesis, hepatic triglyceride and glycogen content, and impaired insulin suppression of gluconeogenic genes. Hepatic insulin receptor substrate (IRS)-1 and IRS-2 expression and insulin-stimulated Akt-phosphorylation are decreased in BKS-db primary hepatocytes. Hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic clamp studies indicate that in contrast to hepatic insulin resistance, skeletal muscle is more insulin sensitive in BKS-db than in B6-db mice. We also demonstrate that elevated plasma triglyceride levels in BKS-db mice are associated with reduced triglyceride clearance due to lower lipase activities.
Our study demonstrates the presence of metabolic derangements in BKS-db before the onset of β-cell failure and identifies early hepatic insulin resistance as a component of the BKS-db phenotype. We propose that defects in hepatic insulin signaling contribute to the development of diabetes in the BKS-db mouse strain.
PMCID: PMC2889760  PMID: 20393148
9.  Upstream transcription factor 1 influences plasma lipid and metabolic traits in mice 
Human Molecular Genetics  2009;19(4):597-608.
Upstream transcription factor 1 (USF1) has been associated with familial combined hyperlipidemia, the metabolic syndrome, and related conditions, but the mechanisms involved are unknown. In this study, we report validation of Usf1 as a causal gene of cholesterol homeostasis, insulin sensitivity and body composition in mouse models using several complementary approaches and identify associated pathways and gene expression network modules. Over-expression of human USF1 in both transgenic mice and mice with transient liver-specific over-expression influenced metabolic trait phenotypes, including obesity, total cholesterol level, LDL/VLDL cholesterol and glucose/insulin ratio. Additional analyses of trait and hepatic gene expression data from an F2 population derived from C57BL/6J and C3H/HeJ strains in which there is a naturally occurring variation in Usf1 expression supported a causal role for Usf1 for relevant metabolic traits. Gene network and pathway analyses of the liver gene expression signatures in the F2 population and the hepatic over-expression model suggested the involvement of Usf1 in immune responses and metabolism, including an Igfbp2-centered module. In all three mouse model settings, notable sex specificity was observed, consistent with human studies showing differences in association with USF1 gene polymorphisms between sexes.
PMCID: PMC2807368  PMID: 19995791
10.  Chylomicronemia Elicits Atherosclerosis in Mice 
The risk of atherosclerosis in the setting of chylomicronemia has been a topic of debate. In this study, we examined susceptibility to atherosclerosis in Gpihbp1-deficient mice (Gpihbp1−/−), which manifest severe chylomicronemia as a result of defective lipolysis.
Methods and Results
Gpihbp1−/− mice on a chow diet have plasma triglyceride and cholesterol levels of 2812 ± 209 and 319 ± 27 mg/dl, respectively. Even though nearly all of the lipids were contained in large lipoproteins (50–135 nm), the mice developed progressive aortic atherosclerosis. In other experiments, we found that both Gpihbp1-deficient “apo-B48–only” mice and Gpihbp1-deficient “apo-B100–only” mice manifest severe chylomicronemia. Thus, GPIHBP1 is required for the processing of both apo-B48– and apo-B100–containing lipoproteins.
Chylomicronemia causes atherosclerosis in mice. Also, we found that GPIHBP1 is required for the lipolytic processing of both apo-B48– and apo-B100–containing lipoproteins.
PMCID: PMC2796285  PMID: 19815815
lipoprotein lipase; chylomicronemia; lipolysis; GPIHBP1
11.  Genetic Disruption of Myostatin Reduces the Development of Proatherogenic Dyslipidemia and Atherogenic Lesions In Ldlr Null Mice 
Diabetes  2009;58(8):1739-1748.
Insulin-resistant states, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, contribute substantially to accelerated atherogenesis. Null mutations of myostatin (Mstn) are associated with increased muscle mass and decreased fat mass. In this study, we determined whether Mstn disruption could prevent the development of insulin resistance, proatherogenic dyslipidemia, and atherogenesis.
C57BL/6 Ldlr−/− mice were cross-bred with C57BL/6 Mstn−/− mice for >10 generations to generate Mstn−/−/Ldlr−/− double-knockout mice. The effects of high-fat/high-cholesterol diet on body composition, plasma lipids, systemic and tissue-specific insulin sensitivity, hepatic steatosis, as well as aortic atheromatous lesion were characterized in Mstn−/−/Ldlr−/− mice in comparison with control Mstn+/+/Ldlr−/− mice.
Compared with Mstn+/+/Ldlr−/− controls, Mstn−/−/ Ldlr−/− mice were resistant to diet-induced obesity, and had greatly improved insulin sensitivity, as indicated by 42% higher glucose infusion rate and 90% greater muscle [3H]-2-deoxyglucose uptake during hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic clamp. Mstn−/−/Ldlr−/− mice were protected against diet-induced hepatic steatosis and had 56% higher rate of hepatic fatty acid β-oxidation than controls. Mstn−/−/Ldlr−/− mice also had 36% lower VLDL secretion rate and were protected against diet-induced dyslipidemia, as indicated by 30–60% lower VLDL and LDL cholesterol, free fatty acids, and triglycerides. Magnetic resonance angiography and en face analyses demonstrated 41% reduction in aortic atheromatous lesions in Ldlr−/− mice with Mstn deletion.
Inactivation of Mstn protects against the development of insulin resistance, proatherogenic dyslipidemia, and aortic atherogenesis in Ldlr−/− mice. Myostatin may be a useful target for drug development for prevention and treatment of obesity and its associated type 2 diabetes and atherosclerosis.
PMCID: PMC2712781  PMID: 19509018
12.  Treatment with apolipoprotein A-1 mimetic peptide reduces lupus-like manifestations in a murine lupus model of accelerated atherosclerosis 
The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects of L-4F, an apolipoprotein A-1 mimetic peptide, alone or with pravastatin, in apoE-/-Fas-/-C57BL/6 mice that spontaneously develop immunoglobulin G (IgG) autoantibodies, glomerulonephritis, osteopenia, and atherosclerotic lesions on a normal chow diet.
Female mice, starting at eight to nine weeks of age, were treated for 27 weeks with 1) pravastatin, 2) L-4F, 3) L-4F plus pravastatin, or 4) vehicle control, followed by disease phenotype assessment.
In preliminary studies, dysfunctional, proinflammatory high-density lipoproteins (piHDL) were decreased six hours after a single L-4F, but not scrambled L-4F, injection in eight- to nine-week old mice. After 35 weeks, L-4F-treated mice, in the absence/presence of pravastatin, had significantly smaller lymph nodes and glomerular tufts (PL, LP < 0.05), lower serum levels of IgG antibodies to double stranded DNA (dsDNA) (PL < 0.05) and oxidized phospholipids (oxPLs) (PL, LP < 0.005), and elevated total and vertebral bone mineral density (PL, LP < 0.01) compared to vehicle controls. Although all treatment groups presented larger aortic root lesions compared to vehicle controls, enlarged atheromas in combination treatment mice had significantly less infiltrated CD68+ macrophages (PLP < 0.01), significantly increased mean α-actin stained area (PLP < 0.05), and significantly lower levels of circulating markers for atherosclerosis progression, CCL19 (PL, LP < 0.0005) and VCAM-1 (PL < 0.0002).
L-4F treatment, alone or with pravastatin, significantly reduced IgG anti-dsDNA and IgG anti-oxPLs, proteinuria, glomerulonephritis, and osteopenia in a murine lupus model of accelerated atherosclerosis. Despite enlarged aortic lesions, increased smooth muscle content, decreased macrophage infiltration, and decreased pro-atherogenic chemokines in L-4F plus pravastatin treated mice suggest protective mechanisms not only on lupus-like disease, but also on potential plaque remodeling in a murine model of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and accelerated atherosclerosis.
PMCID: PMC2911877  PMID: 20482780
13.  Positional cloning of the combined hyperlipidemia gene Hyplip1 
Nature genetics  2001;30(1):110-116.
Familial combined hyperlipidemia (FCHL, MIM-144250) is a common, multifactorial and heterogeneous dyslipidemia predisposing to premature coronary artery disease1–2 and characterized by elevated plasma triglycerides, cholesterol, or both3–4. We identified a mutant mouse strain, HcB-19/Dem (HcB-19), that shares features with FCHL, including hypertriglyceridemia, hypercholesterolemia, elevated plasma apolipoprotein B and increased secretion of triglyceride-rich lipoproteins5. The hyperlipidemia results from spontaneous mutation at a locus, Hyplip1, on distal mouse chromosome 3 in a region syntenic with a 1q21–q23 FCHL locus identified in Finnish, German, Chinese and US families6–8. We fine-mapped Hyplip1 to roughly 160 kb, constructed a BAC contig and sequenced overlapping BACs to identify 13 candidate genes. We found substantially decreased mRNA expression for thioredoxin interacting protein (Txnip). Sequencing of the critical region revealed a Txnip nonsense mutation in HcB-19 that is absent in its normolipidemic parental strains. Txnip encodes a cytoplasmic protein that binds and inhibits thioredoxin, a major regulator of cellular redox state. The mutant mice have decreased CO2 production but increased ketone body synthesis, suggesting that altered redox status down-regulates the citric-acid cycle, sparing fatty acids for triglyceride and ketone body production. These results reveal a new pathway of potential clinical significance that contributes to plasma lipid metabolism.
PMCID: PMC2846781  PMID: 11753387
14.  Validation of Candidate Causal Genes for Abdominal Obesity Which Affect Shared Metabolic Pathways and Networks 
Nature genetics  2009;41(4):415-423.
A major task in dissecting the genetics of complex traits is to identify causal genes for disease phenotypes. We previously developed a method to infer causal relationships among genes through the integration of DNA variation, gene transcription, and phenotypic information. Here we validated our method through the characterization of transgenic and knockout mouse models of candidate genes that were predicted to be causal for abdominal obesity. Perturbation of eight out of the nine genes, with Gas7, Me1 and Gpx3 being novel, resulted in significant changes in obesity related traits. Liver expression signatures revealed alterations in common metabolic pathways and networks contributing to abdominal obesity and overlapped with a macrophage-enriched metabolic network module that is highly associated with metabolic traits in mice and humans. Integration of gene expression in the design and analysis of traditional F2 intercross studies allows high confidence prediction of causal genes and identification of involved pathways and networks.
PMCID: PMC2837947  PMID: 19270708

Results 1-14 (14)