CD1 expression in human atherosclerosis: A potential mechanism for T cell activation by foam cells

Agustín Melián, Yong Jian Geng, Galina K. Sukhova, Peter Libby, Steven A. Porcelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

117 Scopus citations


Atherosclerotic plaques are chronic inflammatory lesions composed of dysfunctional endothelium, smooth muscle cells, lipid-laden macrophages, and T lymphocytes. This study analyzed atherosclerotic tissue specimens for expression of CD1 molecules, a family of cell surface proteins that present lipid antigens to T cells, and examined the possibility that CD1+ lipid-laden macrophages might present antigen to T cells. Immunohistochemical studies using a panel of specific monoclonal antibodies demonstrated expression of each of the four previously characterized human CD1 proteins (CD1a, -b, -c, and -d) in atherosclerotic plaques. Expression of CD1 was not observed in normal arterial specimens and appeared to be restricted to the CD68+ lipid- laden foam cells of atherosclerotic lesions. CD1 molecules colocalized in areas of the arterial wall that also contained abundant T lymphocytes, suggesting potential interactions between CD1+ cells and plaque-infiltrating lymphocytes in situ. Using CD1-expressing foam cells derived from macrophages in vitro, we demonstrated the ability of such cells to present lipid antigens to CD1 restricted T cells. Given the abundant T cells, CD1+ macrophages, and lipid accumulation in atherosclerotic plaques, we propose a potential role for lipid antigen presentation by CD1 proteins in the generation of the inflammatory component of these lesions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)775-786
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Pathology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1999
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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