Low ambient oxygen prevents atherosclerosis

Ju Gyeong Kang, Ho Joong Sung, Marcelo J. Amar, Milton Pryor, Alan T. Remaley, Michele D. Allen, Audrey C. Noguchi, Danielle A. Springer, Jaeyul Kwon, Jichun Chen, Ji hoon Park, Ping yuan Wang, Paul M. Hwang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Abstract: Large population studies have shown that living at higher altitudes, which lowers ambient oxygen exposure, is associated with reduced cardiovascular disease mortality. However, hypoxia has also been reported to promote atherosclerosis by worsening lipid metabolism and inflammation. We sought to address these disparate reports by reducing the ambient oxygen exposure of ApoE−/− mice. We observed that long-term adaptation to 10 % O2 (equivalent to oxygen content at ∼5000 m), compared to 21 % O2 (room air at sea level), resulted in a marked decrease in aortic atherosclerosis in ApoE−/− mice. This effect was associated with increased expression of the anti-inflammatory cytokine interleukin-10 (IL-10), known to be anti-atherogenic and regulated by hypoxia-inducible transcription factor-1α (HIF-1α). Supporting these observations, ApoE−/− mice that were deficient in IL-10 (IL10−/− ApoE−/− double knockout) failed to show reduced atherosclerosis in 10 % oxygen. Our study reveals a specific mechanism that can help explain the decreased prevalence of ischemic heart disease in populations living at high altitudes and identifies ambient oxygen exposure as a potential factor that could be modulated to alter pathogenesis. Key messages: Chronic low ambient oxygen exposure decreases atherosclerosis in mice.Anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10 levels are increased by low ambient O2.This is consistent with the established role of HIF-1α in IL10 transactivation.Absence of IL-10 results in the loss of the anti-atherosclerosis effect of low O2.This mechanism may contribute to decreased atherosclerosis at high altitudes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)277-286
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Molecular Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Hypoxia
  • IL-10
  • Oxygen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Drug Discovery
  • Genetics(clinical)


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