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Daina Kashiwazaki, Naoki Akioka, Naoya Kuwayama, Tomohide Hayashi, Kyo Noguchi, Kortaro Tanaka and Satoshi Kuroda

OBJECTIVE

The roles of endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) in the development of carotid plaque are still obscure. This study aimed to clarify this by assessing the histological findings of specimens obtained from carotid endarterectomy.

METHODS

This study included 34 patients who underwent carotid endarterectomy. MR imaging was performed to semiquantitatively analyze the components of the carotid plaques in all patients. The surgical specimens were subjected to immunohistochemistry. The distributions of the CD34-, CD133-, VEGF-2R–positive cells in the carotid plaques were precisely analyzed, and their number was quantified. Simultaneously, the CD34-positive microvessels were localized.

RESULTS

The plaque component was judged as lipid-rich plaque in 19 patients, intraplaque hemorrhage (IPH) in 11 patients, and fibrous plaque in 4 patients. The CD34-positive microvessels were densely distributed in the plaque shoulder and interface-to-media regions. The CD34-, CD133-, and VEGF-2R–positive cells were mainly localized around the CD34-positive microvessels. The number of CD34-positive microvessels significantly correlated with the number of CD34-, CD133-, and VEGF-2R–positive cells (R = 0.308, p = 0.009; R = 0.324, p = 0.006; and R = 0.296, p = 0.013, respectively). Vulnerable plaques (lipid-rich and IPH) had significantly higher numbers of the CD34-positive microvessels (p = 0.007) and CD34-, CD133-, and VEGF-2R–positive cells than fibrous plaques (p = 0.031, p = 0.013, and p = 0.002).

CONCLUSIONS

These findings strongly suggest that neovascularization in the plaque shoulder and interface-to-media regions may play a key role in delivering EPCs from the peripheral blood to the carotid plaque, promoting the growth of carotid plaque. Furthermore, the invaded EPCs, especially the CD133-positive immature EPCs, may be related to plaque vulnerability.

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Daina Kashiwazaki, Masaki Koh, Haruto Uchino, Naoki Akioka, Naoya Kuwayama, Kyo Noguchi and Satoshi Kuroda

OBJECTIVE

The relationship between intraplaque hypoxia and intraplaque hemorrhage (IPH) has been reported, but the details remain obscure. In this study, the authors aimed to clarify the relationship among intraplaque hypoxia, endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs), and neovascularization, which causes IPH. The histological findings of specimens obtained from carotid endarterectomy were assessed.

METHODS

This study included 49 patients who underwent carotid endarterectomy. Magnetic resonance plaque imaging was performed to analyze the components of the carotid plaques, and surgical specimens were subjected to immunohistochemical analysis. The numbers of hypoxia-inducible factor-1 alpha (HIF-1α)–, CD34-, CD133-, and vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-2 (VEGFR-2)–positive cells in the carotid plaques were precisely quantified, as were the number and maximum diameter of CD31-positive microvessels.

RESULTS

Plaque components were judged as fibrous in 7 samples, lipid-rich in 22, and IPH in 20. The number of CD34-, VEGFR-2–, and CD133-positive cells as an EPC-specific marker was significantly correlated with the number of HIF-1α–positive cells (r = 0.9, r = 0.82, and r = 0.81, respectively). These numbers varied among the 3 plaque components (IPH > lipid-rich > fibrous). The number and maximum luminal diameter of CD31-positive microvessels were also significantly correlated with the number of HIF-1α–positive cells (r = 0.85 and r = 0.89, respectively) and varied among the 3 plaque components (IPH > lipid-rich > fibrous).

CONCLUSIONS

The present findings suggest that intraplaque hypoxia may accelerate abnormal microvessel formation derived from EPCs, which in turn promotes IPH. The results also suggest that microvessel enlargement is a pivotal characteristic of IPH and these enlarged microvessels are immature endothelial tubes with disorganized branching and are fragile and prone to rupture.