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Atherosclerosis is a progressive, degenerative vascular disease and a leading cause of morbidity and mortality. In response to endothelial damage, platelet derived growth factor (PDGF)-BB induced phenotypic modulation of medial smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) promotes atherosclerotic lesion formation and destabilisation of the vessel wall. VSMC sensitivity to PDGF-BB is determined by endocytosis of Low density lipoprotein receptor related protein 1 (LRP1)-PDGFR β complexes to balance receptor recycling with lysosomal degradation. Consequently, LRP1 is implicated in various arterial diseases. Having identified Tβ4 as a regulator of LRP1-mediated endocytosis to protect against aortic aneurysm, we sought to determine whether Tβ4 may additionally function to protect against atherosclerosis, by regulating LRP1-mediated growth factor signalling. By single cell transcriptomic analysis, Tmsb4x, encoding Tβ4, strongly correlated with contractile gene expression and was significantly down-regulated in cells that adopted a modulated phenotype in atherosclerosis. We assessed susceptibility to atherosclerosis of global Tβ4 knockout mice using the ApoE-/- hypercholesterolaemia model. Inflammation, elastin integrity, VSMC phenotype and signalling were analysed in the aortic root and descending aorta. Tβ4KO; ApoE-/- mice develop larger atherosclerotic plaques than control mice, with medial layer degeneration characterised by accelerated VSMC phenotypic modulation. Defects in Tβ4KO; ApoE-/- mice phenocopied those in VSMC-specific LRP1 nulls and, moreover, were underpinned by hyperactivated LRP1-PDGFRβ signalling. We identify an atheroprotective role for endogenous Tβ4 in maintaining differentiated VSMC phenotype via LRP1-mediated PDGFRβ signalling.

Original publication




Journal article


Int Immunopharmacol

Publication Date





Atherosclerosis, LRP1, Thymosin b4, Vascular sooth muscle cell phenotype, Animals, Mice, Apolipoproteins E, Atherosclerosis, Becaplermin, LDL-Receptor Related Proteins, Lipoproteins, LDL, Muscle, Smooth, Vascular