Giant cell arteritis (GCA) is a systemic vasculitis preferentially affecting large and medium-sized arteries. Inflammatory infiltrates in the arterial wall induce luminal occlusion with subsequent ischemia and degradation of the elastic membranes, allowing aneurysm formation. To identify pathways relevant to the disease process, differential display-PCR was used. The enzyme aldose reductase (AR), which is implicated in the regulation of tissue osmolarity, was found to be upregulated in the arteritic lesions. Upregulated AR expression was limited to areas of tissue destruction in inflamed arteries, where it was detected in T cells, macrophages, and smooth muscle cells. The production of AR was highly correlated with the presence of 4-hydroxynonenal (HNE), a toxic aldehyde and downstream product of lipid peroxidation. In vitro exposure of mononuclear cells to HNE was sufficient to induce AR production. The in vivo relationship of AR and HNE was explored by treating human GCA temporal artery-severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) mouse chimeras with the AR inhibitors Sorbinil and Zopolrestat. Inhibition of AR increased HNE adducts twofold and the number of apoptotic cells in the arterial wall threefold. These data demonstrate that AR has a tissue-protective function by preventing damage from lipid peroxidation. We propose that AR is an oxidative defense mechanism able to neutralize the toxic effects of lipid peroxidation and has a role in limiting the arterial wall injury mediated by reactive oxygen species.
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