NHC Key Laboratory of Biotechnology of Antibiotics, Beijing Key Laboratory of Antimicrobial Agents, Institute of Medicinal Biotechnology, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences & Peking Union Medical College, Tian Tan Xi Li #1, Dongcheng District, Beijing 100050, China.
* These authors have contributed equally to this work.
Damage to vascular endothelial cells (VECs) and vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) caused by oxidized low-density lipoprotein (oxLDL) contributes to cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases. Protection effects of Berberine (BBR) on the cardiovascular system have been reported, however, the molecular mechanism of vascular protection is still unclear. In this study, we established two hyperlipidemia models in zebrafish and VEC-VSMC co-culture using high-cholesterol food (HCF) and oxLDL, respectively. We demonstrated that HCF doubled total cholesterol and total glyceride levels, and BBR decreased these indices in a concentration-dependent manner. Lipid staining and hematoxylin-eosin staining revealed that BBR inhibited oxLDL-induced VSMC bulge-like proliferation and migration toward VECs and prevented the HCF-induced trunk vascular obstruction in zebrafish. Immunoblot analysis, cell immunofluorescence, co-immunoprecipitation assays, and transmission electron microscopy showed that oxLDL/HCF increased lectin-like oxLDL receptor-1 (LOX-1) expression at least 5-fold and significantly inhibited autophagolysosome formation in the blood vessel cells and in zebrafish. These observations were associated with endothelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in VECs and triggered VE-cadherin ectopic expression in VSMCs, and they were responsible for aberrant VSMC migration and vascular occlusion. However, BBR, by promoting autolysosome formation and degradation of LOX-1, reversed the above events and maintained intracellular homeostasis of vessel cells and vascular integrity. In conclusion, regulation of autophagy may be an effective approach to treating oxLDL-induced cardiovascular diseases by reducing LOX-1 protein level. BBR can protect blood vessels by adjusting the oxLDL-LOX-1-EMT-autophagy axis. This study is a step toward the development of new applications of BBR.
Keywords: autophagy, Berberine, cell co-culture, EMT, LOX-1, vascular injury, zebrafish