The physiological role of autophagic flux within the vascular endothelial layer remains poorly understood. Here, we show that in primary endothelial cells, oxidized and native LDL stimulates autophagosome formation. Moreover, by both confocal and electron microscopy, excess native or modified LDL appears to be engulfed within autophagic structures. Transient knockdown of the essential autophagy gene ATG7 resulted in higher levels of intracellular 125I-LDL and oxidized LDL (OxLDL) accumulation, suggesting that in endothelial cells, autophagy may represent an important mechanism to regulate excess, exogenous lipids. The physiological importance of these observations was assessed using mice containing a conditional deletion of ATG7 within the endothelium. Following acute intravenous infusion of fluorescently labeled OxLDL, mice lacking endothelial expression of ATG7 demonstrated prolonged retention of OxLDL within the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) and choroidal endothelium of the eye. In a chronic model of lipid excess, we analyzed atherosclerotic burden in ApoE-/-mice with or without endothelial autophagic flux. The absence of endothelial autophagy markedly increased atherosclerotic burden. Thus, in both an acute and chronic in vivo model, endothelial autophagy appears critically important in limiting lipid accumulation within the vessel wall. As such, strategies that stimulate autophagy, or prevent the age-dependent decline in autophagic flux, might be particularly beneficial in treating atherosclerotic vascular disease.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cell Biology