The expression of TGF-β receptors in human atherosclerosis: Evidence for acquired resistance to apoptosis due to receptor imbalance

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology








Apoptosis; Atherosclerosis; Gene therapy; Interferon-γ; Receptors; Resistance; Restenosis; Retrovirus; Transforming growth factor-β


The degree of cellularity in vascular lesions Is determined by the balance between the migration and proliferation of cells relative to their rate of egress and apoptosis. Transforming growth factor-β1, can act as a potent antiproliferative and apoptotic factor for proliferating vascular cells. Our laboratory has previously identified cells cultured from human vascular lesions that are resistant to the antiproliferative effect of TGF-β1, due to an acquired mutation in the Type II receptor for TGF-β1. In the present studies, the expression of the Type I and II receptors in coronary and carotid atherosclerotic lesions was analysed by immunostaining, RT-PCR, and in situ RT-PCR. Levels of the Type I and Type II receptors varied widely within lesions, with the highest levels in the fibrous cap and at discrete foci within the lesion. Regions of smooth muscle-like cells (SMC) were commonly found that were Type I positive but Type II receptor negative. In 43 cell lines cultured from 126 human lesions, 84% of the lesion-derived cell (LDC) cultures exhibited functional resistance to the antiproliferative effect of TGF-β1. This resistance was conferred against TGF-β1, TGF-β2, and TGF-β3, but not interferon-γ or mimosine. While normal SMC exhibited a four-fold increase in the rate of apoptosis after TGE-β1 treatment, most LDC were resistant to apoptosis in response to TGF-β1. Resistant cells exhibited selective loss of Type II receptor expression, and retroviral transfection of Type II receptor cDNA partially corrected the functional deficit. Thus, resistance to apoptosis may lead to the slow proliferation of resistant cell subsets, thereby contributing to the progression of atherosclerotic and restenotic lesions.