OBJECTIVE - Endothelial cell activation results in altered cell-cell interactions with adjacent endothelial cells and with infiltrating leukocytes. Eph receptors and their ephrin ligands regulate cell-cell interactions during tissue remodeling, and multiple proinflammatory mediators induce endothelial EphA receptor and ephrinA ligand expression. Therefore, we sought to elucidate the role of EphA receptors and ephrinA ligands in endothelial cell activation and atherosclerosis.
METHODS AND RESULTS - Quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction screening for EphA/ephrinA expression in atherosclerosis-prone macrovascular endothelium identified EphA2, EphA4, and ephrinA1 as the dominant isoforms. Endothelial activation with oxidized low-density lipoprotein and proinflammatory cytokines induced EphA2 and ephrinA1 expression and sustained EphA2 activation, whereas EphA4 expression was unaffected. Atherosclerotic plaques from mice and humans showed enhanced EphA2 and ephrinA1 expression colocalizing in the endothelial cell layer. EphA2 activation with recombinant Fc-ephrinA1 induced proinflammatory gene expression (eg vascular cell adhesion molecule-1, E-selectin) and stimulated monocyte adhesion, whereas inhibiting EphA2 (small interfering RNA, pharmacological inhibitors) abrogated both ephrinA1-induced and oxidized low-density lipoprotein-induced vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 expression.
CONCLUSION - The current data suggest that enhanced EphA2 signaling during endothelial cell activation perpetuates proinflammatory gene expression. Coupled with EphA2 expression in mouse and human atherosclerotic plaques, these data implicate EphA2 as a novel proinflammatory mediator and potential regulator of atherosclerotic plaque development.