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microRNA-33 Regulates Macrophage Autophagy in Atherosclerosis

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Defective autophagy in macrophages leads to pathological processes that contribute to atherosclerosis, including impaired cholesterol metabolism and defective efferocytosis. Autophagy promotes the degradation of cytoplasmic components in lysosomes and plays a key role in the catabolism of stored lipids to maintain cellular homeostasis. microRNA-33 (miR-33) is a post-transcriptional regulator of genes involved in cholesterol homeostasis, yet the complete mechanisms by which miR-33 controls lipid metabolism are unknown. We investigated whether miR-33 targeting of autophagy contributes to its regulation of cholesterol homeostasis and atherogenesis.

Approach and Results—

Using coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering microscopy, we show that miR-33 drives lipid droplet accumulation in macrophages, suggesting decreased lipolysis. Inhibition of neutral and lysosomal hydrolysis pathways revealed that miR-33 reduced cholesterol mobilization by a lysosomal-dependent mechanism, implicating repression of autophagy. Indeed, we show that miR-33 targets key autophagy regulators and effectors in macrophages to reduce lipid droplet catabolism, an essential process to generate free cholesterol for efflux. Notably, miR-33 regulation of autophagy lies upstream of its known effects on ABCA1 (ATP-binding cassette transporter A1)-dependent cholesterol efflux, as miR-33 inhibitors fail to increase efflux upon genetic or chemical inhibition of autophagy. Furthermore, we find that miR-33 inhibits apoptotic cell clearance via an autophagy-dependent mechanism. Macrophages treated with anti-miR-33 show increased efferocytosis, lysosomal biogenesis, and degradation of apoptotic material. Finally, we show that treating atherosclerotic Ldlr −/− mice with anti-miR-33 restores defective autophagy in macrophage foam cells and plaques and promotes apoptotic cell clearance to reduce plaque necrosis.


Collectively, these data provide insight into the mechanisms by which miR-33 regulates cellular cholesterol homeostasis and atherosclerosis.
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Keywords: atherosclerosis; autophagy; hydrolysis; lipid droplets; macrophages

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2017

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