Smooth muscle cells in human atherosclerotic plaques express the fractalkine receptor CX3CR1 and undergo chemotaxis to the CX3C chemokine fractalkine (CX3CL1).
Lucas AD., Bursill C., Guzik TJ., Sadowski J., Channon KM., Greaves DR.
BACKGROUND: Chemokines are important mediators of inflammatory cell recruitment that play a significant role in atherosclerosis. Fractalkine (CX3CL1) is an unusual membrane-bound chemokine that mediates chemotaxis through the CX3CR1 receptor. Recently, functional polymorphisms in the human CX3CR1 gene have been described that are associated with coronary artery disease. METHODS AND RESULTS: We investigated the expression of the CX3C chemokine fractalkine and its receptor CX3CR1 in human coronary artery plaques by immunocytometry. We show that a subset of mononuclear cells expresses high levels of fractalkine in human coronary atherosclerotic plaques and that smooth muscle cells within the neointima express the fractalkine receptor CX3CR1. There is a positive correlation between the number of fractalkine-expressing cells and the number of CX3CR1-positive cells in human atherosclerotic plaques (r=0.70, n=15 plaques). Furthermore, we demonstrate that cultured vascular smooth muscle cells express the CX3CR1 receptor and undergo chemotaxis to fractalkine that can be inhibited by G protein inactivation by pertussis toxin. CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that in human atherosclerosis, fractalkine, rather than mediating inflammatory cell recruitment, can act as a mediator of smooth muscle cell migration.