We demonstrated previously that atherosclerosis develops more extensively in vasectomized cynomolgus macaques fed an atherogenic diet and speculated that the immunologic response to sperm antigens may have exacerbated the atherosclerosis. We report here that rhesus monkeys vasectomized for 9-14 yr and fed monkey chow (devoid of cholesterol and low in fat) rather than an atherogenic diet also had more extensive and severe atherosclerosis than did control animals of the same age. The extent of atherosclerosis was considered as the percentage of intimal surface with plaques. No control animals were found to have plaques in the thoracic aorta, but 7 of 10 vasectomized monkeys were affected. The plaques in the vasectomized monkeys occupied about 13% of the intimal surface. In 4 of 7 control monkeys and 7 of 10 vasectomized monkeys there were lesions in the abdominal aortas; the lesions were considerably more extensive and severe in the vasectomized animals. Lesions were also more common in iliac arteries of vasectomized animals, and the extent was increased about threefold. Plaques were seen at the carotid bifurcation in all of the animals of both the control and vasectomized groups. The carotid bifurcation plaques of the vasectomized monkeys were larger than those of the control animals on the right but not on the left side. Histologically, the lesions of vasectomized monkeys did not appear to be qualitatively different from those of control animals, even though they were larger and contained more collagen, lipid, and mucopolysaccharides. Grossly, the distribution of the lesions in the vasectomized animals was different from that in the control animals, and that of lesions induced by atherogenic diets, i.e., the lesions were distributed randomly within the artery rather than around bifurcations. More extensive atherosclerosis was noted among vasectomized animals that were found to lack demonstrable circulating free antisperm antibodies. On the basis of the observations made in this study, we suggest that the antisperm antibodies that form after vasectomy may result in circulating immune complexes that exacerbate atherosclerosis.
T B Clarkson, N J Alexander