Hyperlipidemia enhances xanthine oxidase (XO) activity. XO is an important source of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Since ROS are thought to promote atherosclerosis, we hypothesized that XO is involved in the development of atherosclerosis. ApoE(-/-) mice were fed a Western-type (WD) or control diet. In subgroups, tungsten (700 mg/L) was administered to inhibit XO. XO is a secreted enzyme which is formed in the liver as xanthine dehydrogenase (XDH) and binds to the vascular endothelium. High expression of XDH was found in the liver and WD increased liver XDH mRNA and XDH protein expression. WD induced the conversion of XDH to the radical-forming XO. Moreover, WD increased the hepatic expression of CD40, demonstrating activation of hepatic cells. Aortic tissue of ApoE(-/-) mice fed a WD for 6 months exhibited marked atherosclerosis, attenuated endothelium-dependent relaxation to acetylcholine, increased vascular oxidative stress, and mRNA expression of the chemokine KC. Tungsten treatment had no effect on plasma lipids but lowered the plasma XO activity. In animals fed a control diet, tungsten had no effect on radical formation, endothelial function, or atherosclerosis development. In mice fed a WD, however tungsten attenuated the vascular superoxide anion formation, prevented endothelial dysfunction, and attenuated KC mRNA expression. Most importantly, tungsten treatment largely prevented the development of atherosclerosis in the aorta of ApoE(-/-) mice on WD. Therefore, tungsten, potentially via the inhibition of XO, prevents the development of endothelial dysfunction and atherosclerosis in ApoE(-/-) mice on WD.
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