Toll-like receptor (TLR) family plays a key role in innate immunity and various inflammatory responses. TLR4, one of the well-characterized pattern-recognition receptors, can be activated by endogenous damage-associated molecular pattern molecules such as high mobility group box 1 (HMGB1) to sustain sterile inflammation. Evidence suggested that blockade of TLR4 signaling may confer protection against abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). Herein we aimed to obtain further insight into the mechanism by which TLR4 might promote aneurysm formation. Characterization of the CaCl2-induced AAA model in mice revealed that upregulation of TLR4 expression, localized predominantly to vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs), was followed by a late decline during a 28-day period of AAA development. In vitro, TLR4 expression was increased in VSMCs treated with HMGB1. Knockdown of TLR4 by siRNA attenuated HMGB1-enhanced production of proinflammatory cytokines, specifically interleukin-6 and monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1), and matrix-degrading matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-2 from VSMCs. In vivo, two different strains of TLR4-deficient (C57BL/10ScNJ and C3H/HeJ) mice were resistant to CaCl2-induced AAA formation compared to their respective controls (C57BL/10ScSnJ and C3H/HeN). Knockout of TLR4 reduced interleukin-6 and MCP-1 levels and HMGB1 expression, attenuated macrophage accumulation, and eventually suppressed MMP production, elastin destruction and VSMC loss. Finally, human AAA exhibited higher TLR4 expression that was localized to VSMCs. These data suggest that TLR4 signaling contributes to AAA formation by promoting a proinflammatory status of VSMCs and by inducing proteinase release from VSMCs during aneurysm initiation and development.
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