Disruption of TGF-β signaling in T cells accelerates atherosclerosis

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Increasing evidence suggests that atherosclerosis is an inflammatory disease promoted by hypercholesterolemia. The role of adaptive immunity has been controversial, however. We hypothesized that proatherogenic T cells are controlled by immunoregulatory cytokines. Among them, TGF-β has been implied in atherosclerosis, but its mechanism of action remains unclear. We crossed atherosclerosis-prone ApoE-knockout mice with transgenic mice carrying a dominant negative TGF-β receptor II in T cells. The ApoE-knockout mice with disrupted TGF-β signaling in T cells exhibited a sixfold increase in aortic lesion surface area, a threefold increase in aortic root lesion size, and a 125-fold increase in aortic IFN-γ mRNA when compared with age-matched ApoE-knockout littermates. When comparing size-matched lesions, those of mice with T cell-specific blockade of TGF-β signaling displayed increased T cells, activated macrophages, and reduced collagen, consistent with a more vulnerable phenotype. Ab's to oxidized LDL, circulating T cell cytokines, and spleen T cell activity were all increased in ApoE-knockout mice with dominant negative TGF-β receptors in T cells. Taken together, these results show that abrogation of TGF-β signaling in T cells increases atherosclerosis and suggest that TGF-β reduces atherosclerosis by dampening T cell activation. Inhibition of T cell activation may therefore represent a strategy for antiatherosclerotic therapy.

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