RATIONALE - Activated nuclear factor (NF)-κB signaling in the vascular endothelium promotes the initiation and progression of atherosclerosis. Targeting endothelial NF-κB may provide a novel strategy to limit chronic inflammation.
OBJECTIVE - To examine the role of microRNA-181b (miR-181b) in endothelial NF-κB signaling and effects on atherosclerosis.
METHODS AND RESULTS - MiR-181b expression was reduced in the aortic intima and plasma in apolipoprotein E-deficient mice fed a high-fat diet. Correspondingly, circulating miR-181b in the plasma was markedly reduced in human subjects with coronary artery disease. Systemic delivery of miR-181b resulted in a 2.3-fold overexpression of miR-181b in the aortic intima of apolipoprotein E-deficient mice and suppressed NF-κB signaling revealed by bioluminescence imaging and reduced target gene expression in the aortic arch in apolipoprotein E-deficient/NF-κB-luciferase transgenic mice. MiR-181b significantly inhibited atherosclerotic lesion formation, proinflammatory gene expression and the influx of lesional macrophages and CD4+ T cells in the vessel wall. Mechanistically, miR-181b inhibited the expression of the target gene importin-α3, an effect that reduced NF-κB nuclear translocation specifically in the vascular endothelium of lesions, whereas surprisingly leukocyte NF-κB signaling was unaffected despite a 7-fold overexpression of miR-181b. Our findings uncover that NF-κB nuclear translocation in leukocytes does not involve importin-α3, but rather importin-α5, which miR-181b does not target, highlighting that inhibition of NF-κB signaling in the endothelium is sufficient to mediate miR-181b's protective effects.
CONCLUSIONS - Systemic delivery of miR-181b inhibits the activation of NF-κB and atherosclerosis through cell-specific mechanisms in the vascular endothelium. These findings support the rationale that delivery of miR-181b may provide a novel therapeutic approach to treat chronic inflammatory diseases such as atherosclerosis.