Selective Deletion of Leptin Signaling in Endothelial Cells Enhances Neointima Formation and Phenocopies the Vascular Effects of Diet-Induced Obesity in Mice

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Obesity is associated with elevated circulating leptin levels and hypothalamic leptin resistance. Leptin receptors (LepRs) are expressed on endothelial cells, and leptin promotes neointima formation in a receptor-dependent manner. Our aim was to examine the importance of endothelial LepR (End.LepR) signaling during vascular remodeling and to determine whether the cardiovascular consequences of obesity are because of hyperleptinemia or endothelial leptin resistance.

Approach and Results—

Mice with loxP-flanked LepR alleles were mated with mice expressing Cre recombinase controlled by the inducible endothelial receptor tyrosine kinase promoter. Obesity was induced with high-fat diet. Neointima formation was examined after chemical carotid artery injury. Morphometric quantification revealed significantly greater intimal hyperplasia, neointimal cellularity, and proliferation in End.LepR knockout mice, and similar findings were obtained in obese, hyperleptinemic End.LepR wild-type animals. Analysis of primary endothelial cells confirmed abrogated signal transducer and activator of transcription-3 phosphorylation in response to leptin in LepR knockout and obese LepR wild-type mice. Quantitative PCR, ELISA, and immunofluorescence analyses revealed increased expression and release of endothelin-1 in End.LepR-deficient and LepR-resistant cells, and ET receptor A/B antagonists abrogated their paracrine effects on murine aortic smooth muscle cell proliferation. Reduced expression of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-γ and increased nuclear activator protein-1 staining was observed in End.LepR-deficient and LepR-resistant cells, and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-γ antagonization increased endothelial endothelin-1 expression.


Our findings suggest that intact endothelial leptin signaling limits neointima formation and that obesity represents a state of endothelial leptin resistance. These observations and the identification of endothelin-1 as soluble mediator of the cardiovascular risk factor obesity may have relevant therapeutic implications.

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