Cholesterol-Fed and Casein-Fed Rabbit Models of Atherosclerosis

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Abstract One-month-old male New Zealand White rabbits were fed either a cholesterol-free casein diet (n=10) or low-level cholesterol-supplemented chow (n=10) for 24 weeks, during which total plasma cholesterol levels were matched. After perfusion fixation, aortic tissue samples were taken from six predetermined locations and embedded in epoxy resin for examination by light and electron microscopy. Frozen sections were also obtained for histochemical demonstration of collagen and elastin. Lesion morphology was classified in toluidine blue-stained, semithin epoxy sections as early fatty streaks (round foam cells with little intervening extracellular matrix); advanced fatty streaks (foam cells with extracellular lipid); fibrous plaques (spindle-shaped cells within extracellular matrix); or atheromatous lesions (presence of an atheromatous core). In representative specimens, electron microscopy showed that the ultrastructure of round foam cells was consistent with macrophage derivation, whereas most spindle-shaped cells were clearly smooth muscle cells. Fibrous plaques were more common in the distal than the proximal aorta. Lesions in the casein-fed animals were essentially equally distributed among the four morphological categories, whereas lesions in the cholesterol-fed rabbits were predominantly of the atheromatous type. Thus, cholesterolfed rabbits had, in general, more advanced lesions than casein-fed rabbits with matched total plasma cholesterol levels. Moreover, the feeding of a low-level cholesterol diet (0.125% to 0.5% by weight) to rabbits for a relatively short time (6 months) led to the development of advanced lesions similar to those seen in humans.

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