Apoptosis that has been reported in human atherosclerosis may contribute to the remodeling of atherosclerotic plaques. The identification of specific markers for apoptosis in these plaques would permit the development of specific therapeutic strategies to limit their progression. Cysteine protease CPP-32 is essential for apoptotic death in mammalian cells and appears to be an attractive candidate. We studied 12 atherosclerotic plaques from 12 patients who underwent carotid endarterectomy. Apoptosis was analyzed by in situ end labeling of fragmented DNA (TUNEL method) and corroborated by the presence of DNA fragmentation in agarose gel electrophoresis. CPP-32 was detected with the use of a specific monoclonal antibody, and its expression was compared with that of interleukin-1beta-converting enzyme (ICE). We showed that CPP-32 was highly expressed in 10 of 12 atherosclerotic plaques and that it colocalized with apoptotic cells. Expression of ICE generally paralleled that of CPP-32, but ICE was also detected in plaques negative for CPP-32 and showing no apoptosis. CPP-32 is highly expressed within human atherosclerotic plaques and is closely related to apoptosis. This finding suggests that CPP-32 may be the ICE-like enzyme responsible for apoptosis in human atherosclerosis and opens new perspectives for the development of therapeutic strategies to alter the progression of this disease.
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