Macrophages, the major cellular components of atherosclerotic plaques, consist of two main subsets: the pro-inflammatory, M1 or classically activated macrophages, and the anti-inflammatory, M2 or alternatively activated macrophages. The molecular and cellular mechanisms that orchestrate the macrophage polarization and activation that may play a role in plaque progression and stability are poorly understood. Recent studies suggest that oxysterols, oxidative stress-mediated cholesterol oxidation products that are abundant in atherosclerotic lesions, may affect macrophage biology. We investigated whether 7-oxo-cholesterol (7oxo-C) affected polarized human M1 and M2 macrophage phenotypes and functions. Monocyte-derived M1 and M2 macrophages were challenged with 7oxo-C and their phenotype analyzed using flow cytometric analysis, and their function via secretome profiling, the presence of endocytosis and matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9) release. 7oxo-C increased the expression of HLA-DR in M1 macrophages, and CD14 on M2 macrophages. The oxysterol also reduced CD16 expression on M1 macrophages, while reducing their endocytotic capability and increasing MMP- 9 secretion in M2 macrophages. Secretome profiling from cultured cell supernatants showed that 7oxo-C stimulated the production of key pro-atherogenic mediators involved in pro-inflammatory, pro-invasive and pro-angiogenic mechanisms both in M1 and M2 cells. Hypoxic conditions potentiated the effects of 7oxo-C on M1 and M2 cells. The ability of 7oxo-C to polarize macrophages toward a pro-inflammatory state represents a potentially novel mechanism by which oxidative stress can contribute to atherosclerotic lesion progression.
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