P2X7 Deficiency Blocks Lesional Inflammasome Activity and Ameliorates Atherosclerosis in Mice

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Extracellular adenosine triphosphate (ATP) binds as a danger signal to purinergic receptor P2X7 and promotes inflammasome assembly and interleukin-1β expression. We hypothesized a functional role of the signal axis ATP–P2X7 in inflammasome activation and the chronic inflammation driving atherosclerosis.


P2X7-competent and P2X7-deficient macrophages were isolated and stimulated with lipopolysaccharide, ATP, or both. To assess whether P2X7 may have a role in atherosclerosis, P2X7 expression was analyzed in aortic arches from low density lipoprotein receptor-/- mice consuming a high-cholesterol or chow diet. P2X7+/+ and P2X7−/− low density lipoprotein receptor−/− mice were fed a high-cholesterol diet to investigate the functional role of P2X7 knockout in atherosclerosis. Human plaques were derived from carotid endarterectomy and stained against P2X7.


Lipopolysaccharide or ATP stimulation alone did not activate caspase 1 in isolated macrophages. However, priming with lipopolysaccharide, followed by stimulation with ATP, led to an activation of caspase 1 and interleukin-1β in P2X7-competent macrophages. In contrast, P2X7-deficient macrophages showed no activation of caspase 1 after sequential stimulation while still expressing a basal amount of interleukin-1β. P2X7 receptor was higher expressed in murine atherosclerotic lesions, particularly by lesional macrophages. After 16 weeks of a high-cholesterol diet, P2X7-deficient mice showed smaller atherosclerotic lesions than P2X7-competent mice (0.162 cm2±0.023 [n=9], P2X7−/− low density lipoprotein receptor−/− : 0.084 cm2±0.01 [n=11], P=0.004) with a reduced amount of lesional macrophages. In accord with our in vitro findings, lesional caspase 1 activity was abolished in P2X7−/− mice. In addition, intravital microscopy revealed reduced leukocyte rolling and adhesion in P2X7-deficient mice. Last, we observe increased P2X7 expression in human atherosclerotic lesions, suggesting that our findings in mice are relevant for human disease.


P2X7 deficiency resolved plaque inflammation by inhibition of lesional inflammasome activation and reduced experimental atherosclerosis. Therefore, P2X7 represents an interesting potential new target to combat atherosclerosis.

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