Gene therapy, delivered directly to the blood vessel wall, could potentially prevent atherosclerotic lesion growth and promote atherosclerosis regression. Previously, we reported that a helper-dependent adenoviral (HDAd) vector expressing apolipoprotein A-I (apoA-I) in carotid endothelium of fat-fed rabbits reduced early (4 weeks) atherosclerotic lesion growth. Here, we tested whether the same HDAd—delivered to the existing carotid atherosclerotic lesions—could promote regression.Approach and Results—
Rabbits (n=26) were fed a high-fat diet for 7 months, then treated with bilateral carotid gene transfer. One carotid was infused with an HDAd expressing apoA-I (HDAdApoAI) and the other with a control nonexpressing HDAd (HDAdNull). The side with HDAdApoAI was randomized. Rabbits were then switched to regular chow, lowering their plasma cholesterols by over 70%. ApoA-I mRNA and protein were detected in HDAdApoAI-transduced arteries. After 7 weeks of gene therapy, compared with HDAdNull-treated arteries in the same rabbits, HDAdApoAI-treated arteries had significantly less vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 expression (28%; P=0.04) along with modest but statistically insignificant trends toward decreased intimal lesion volume, lipid and macrophage content, and intercellular adhesion molecule-1 expression (9%–21%; P=0.1–0.4). Post hoc subgroup analysis of rabbits with small-to-moderate–sized lesions (n=20) showed that HDAdApoAI caused large reductions in lesion volume, lipid content, intercellular adhesion molecule-1, and vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 expression (30%–50%; P≤0.04 for all). Macrophage content was reduced by 30% (P=0.06). There was a significant interaction (P=0.02) between lesion size and treatment efficacy.Conclusions—
Even when administered on a background of aggressive lowering of plasma cholesterol, local HDAdApoAI vascular gene therapy may promote rapid regression of small-to-moderate–sized atherosclerotic lesions.