Watanabe rabbits with heritable hypercholesterolaemia: a model of atherosclerosis


  • G. Burnstock
  • G. Aliev


watanabe heritable hyperlipidaemic rabbits, aorta, morphology, endothelium, atherosclerosis


Many factors play important roles in the development of atherosclerotic lesions. The leading risk factor for atherosclerosis is familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH). FH is a genetic disease characterized by a deficiency of receptors for low density lipoprotein (LDL) on the plasmalemma of endothelial cells, a high level of serum LDL, and early development of atherosclerosis and skin xanthoma. Watanabe and colleagues have developed a line of rabbits with unprovoked hypercholesterolaemia, increased blood level of LDL, pronounced atherosclerosis and skin xanthoma. These Watanabe Heritable Hyperlipidaemic (WHHL) rabbits possess an inheritable mutation of one gene, similar to that in human FH. The morphogenesis of atherosclerosis in patients with FH is characterized by multifocal deposit of lipids in the stromal cells of thymus, spleen, skin, interstitial and parenchymatous cells of kidneys and the presence of some single foam cells in aorta. The manifestation of atherosclerotic lesions in WHHL rabbits increases progressively with age but the presence of atherosclerotic lesions in newborn WHHL rabbits suggest that the process may commence in ulero. Moreover, the main mass of plasma cholesterol in WHHL rabbits is first found in LDL and to a lesser degree in lipoproteins of intermediate density. This is contrary to diet-induced atherosclerosis in rabbits where the main mass of serum cholesterol is found in very low density p-lipoproteins. Thus the distribution of cholesterol among lipoprotein fractions differs from that in WHHL rabbits. Atherosclerotic damage of arteries in WHHL rabbits goes through several stages. During the progression of intimal damage, lipid and foam cell deposits are found in the internal surface together with developing plaques and increased content of lipids in the tunica media. Calcification often follows this process. The main factors initiating atherosclerosis in WHHL rabbits are adhesion of leukocytes and platelets to endothelial cells and the accumulation of lipids in the aortic wall. The deposits of lipids in macrophages and intimal smooth muscle cells in WHHL rabbits occurs mostly at the expense of cytoplasmic neutral lipid particles with some accumulation in lysosomes. Hypertension as a risk factor increases the area of atherosclerotic damage in all arterial vessels in WHHL rabbits, particularly in the thoracic and abdominal aorta. Morphogenesis of the development of atherosclerosis in WHHL and diet-induced atherosclerosis in rabbits was similar, but differs from rats with heritable hypercholesterolaemia. Damage or loss of endothelial cells can predispose the atherosclerotic vessels to vasospasm and can leave vessels unprotected against vasoconstrictor stimuli. The development of the WHHL model has not only given insight into the mechanisms of development of familial hypercholesterolaemia but has also provided a model for assessing various therapeutic approaches for the prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis.




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