Background. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection is associated with increased risk of thromboembolic and cardiovascular comorbid conditions. Although systemic inflammation is linked to cardiovascular risk, direct evidence of vascular inflammation and endothelial dysfunction is lacking.
Methods. We examined by immunofluorescence microscopy thoracic aortas from 16 simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV)– or simian-human immunodeficiency virus (SHIV)–infected and 16 uninfected rhesus macaques.
Results. Focal endothelial proliferation and subendothelial inflammatory cells were found in sections of all infected animals, compared with minimal changes in sections from the 16 uninfected controls. In the infected animals, we detected increased endothelial levels of bacterial 16s ribosomal DNA as well as increased subendothelial accumulation of CD68+ monocytes/macrophages (P < .001) and CD8+ T lymphocytes (P < .001). Endothelial dysfunction was manifested by decreased levels of endothelial nitric oxide synthase (P < .005) and Krüppel-like factor 2 (KLF2) (P < .005). KLF2 expression was decreased in primary human aortic endothelial cells exposed to bacterial lipopolysaccharide or to oxidized low-density lipoprotein in vitro, and this could be prevented by simvastatin.
Conclusions. SIV and SHIV infection lead to endothelial inflammation, dysfunction, and decreased KLF2 expression reflecting early atherosclerotic changes. Translocated bacterial components and lipid oxidation products may induce endothelial dysfunction in HIV infection that could be prevented by statin treatment.