BACKGROUND AND AIMS: The aim of this study was to investigate possible associations among markers of mineralization, plaque instability and the main risk factors of atherosclerosis.
METHODS AND RESULTS: A Tissue MicroArray containing 52 samples of calcified carotid plaques from 52 symptomatic and asymptomatic patients were built. TMA serial sections were used to study the expression of inflammatory and mineralization markers (BMP-2, BMP-4, VDR, RANKL, Osteopontin, Sclerostin, β-catenin and calmodulin) by immunohistochemistry. Our data clearly demonstrated the expression of mineralization markers in atheromatic plaques. Indeed, with the exception of RANKL, all investigated markers were expressed in at least 60% of cases. Specifically, multivariate analysis displayed significant associations between both the expression of BMP-2 and the presence of unstable plaques as well as between the expression of β-catenin and the presence of stable plaques. We also found a significant inverse association between both a) the presence of hypertension and VDR and b) smoking habits and calmodulin expression. Finally, we noted a higher density of RANKL positive cells in plaques from diabetic patients as compared to non-diabetic ones and a significant positive association between hypertriglyceridemia and BMP-4 expression.
CONCLUSION: Our results support the hypothesis that the process of atherosclerotic plaque calcification presents a number of similarities with the physiological processes that occur in bone, involving both osteoblasts- and osteoclasts-like arterial cells. Finally, the present study suggests that risk factors, such as hypertension, cigarette smoke and diabetes, can cause the destabilization of the atheromatic plaque acting on calcification process as well as inflammation.