AM Henney, PR Wakeley, MJ Davies, K Foster, R Hembry, G Murphy, S Humphries
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A
The stromelysins are members of a family of extracellular matrix metalloproteinases. These enzymes may erode the connective tissue in atherosclerotic plaques, leading to fissuring and acute thrombotic events. Cell-specific stromelysin expression in human atherosclerotic plaques was studied by in situ hybridization and immunocytochemistry. Sections were taken from nine coronary arteries: eight with well-established plaques and one normal. Unambiguous signals were seen in five plaques, two were inconclusive, and the remaining sample was negative, as was the normal coronary artery. Stromelysin mRNA transcripts were localized to isolated individual cells, some of which were smooth muscle, in the plaque cap, intima, and adventitia, but not the media. Expression was also seen in large clusters of macrophages that contained intracellular lipid deposits. The isolated expression of stromelysin by smooth muscle cells may reflect local connective tissue remodeling associated with growth and the formation of the plaque, whereas the more extensive expression associated with macrophages may be of greater pathological significance, contributing to the destabilization of the extracellular matrix and eventual plaque rupture.