The uptake of lipoproteins by macrophages is a critical step in the development of atherosclerotic lesions. Cultured monocyte-derived macrophages take up large amounts of native LDL by receptor-independent fluid-phase pinocytosis, either constitutively or in response to specific activating stimuli, depending on the macrophage phenotype. We therefore sought to determine whether fluid-phase pinocytosis occurs in vivo in macrophages in atherosclerotic lesions. We demonstrated that fluorescent pegylated nanoparticles similar in size to LDL (specifically nontargeted Qtracker quantum dot and AngioSPARK nanoparticles) can serve as models of LDL uptake by fluid-phase pinocytosis in cultured human monocyte–derived macrophages and mouse bone marrow–derived macrophages. Using fluorescence microscopy, we showed that atherosclerosis-prone Apoe-knockout mice injected with these nanoparticles displayed massive accumulation of the nanoparticles within CD68+ macrophages, including lipid-containing foam cells, in atherosclerotic lesions in the aortic arch. Similar results were obtained when atherosclerotic mouse aortas were cultured with nanoparticles in vitro. These results show that macrophages within atherosclerotic lesions can take up LDL-sized nanoparticles by fluid-phase pinocytosis and indicate that fluid-phase pinocytosis of LDL is a mechanism for macrophage foam cell formation in vivo.


Chiara Buono, Joshua J. Anzinger, Marcelo Amar, Howard S. Kruth


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