m-Calpain Induction in Vascular Endothelial Cells on Human and Mouse Atheromas and Its Roles in VE-Cadherin Disorganization and Atherosclerosis

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Although dysfunction of VE-cadherin–mediated adherence junctions in vascular endothelial cells (ECs) is thought to be one of the initial steps of atherosclerosis, little is known regarding how VE-cadherin is disrupted during atherogenic development. This study focused on the role of calpain, an intracellular cysteine protease, in the proteolytic disorganization of VE-cadherin and subsequent progression of atherosclerosis.

Methods and Results—

Increased expression of m-calpain was observed in aortic ECs in atherosclerotic lesions in humans and low-density lipoprotein receptor–deficient (ldlr−/−) mice. Furthermore, proteolytic disorganization of VE-cadherin was shown in aortic ECs in ldlr−/− and apolipoprotein E–deficient (apoE−/−) mice. Long-term administration of calpain inhibitors into these mice attenuated atherosclerotic lesion development and proinflammatory responses, as well as VE-cadherin disorganization, without normalization of plasma lipid profiles. Furthermore, in vivo transfection of m-calpain siRNA to ldlr−/− mice prevented disorganization of VE-cadherin and proatherogenic hyperpermeability in aortic ECs. Treatment of cultured ECs with oxidized LDL, lysophosphatidylcholine, or LDL pretreated with secreted phospholipase A2 led to the induction of m-calpain but not of μ-calpain, thereby eliciting selective m-calpain overactivation. These data suggest that lysophosphatidylcholine-induced m-calpain directly cleaves a juxtamembrane region of VE-cadherin, resulting in dissociation of β-catenin from the VE-cadherin complex, disorganization of adherence junctions, and hyperpermeability in ECs.


Subtype-selective induction of m-calpain in aortic ECs during atherosclerotic progression is associated with proteolytic disorganization of VE-cadherin and proatherogenic hyperpermeability in cells. Thus, a strategy to selectively inhibit m-calpain may be useful for the therapeutic treatment of patients with atherosclerosis.

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