Elevated serum osteoprotegerin (OPG) levels represent an independent risk factor for atherosclerotic disease, although the underlying mechanism is not clear. The aim of this study was to investigate the association of serum OPG levels and circulating endothelial progenitor cell (EPC) numbers, and to explore the effect of OPG on EPC apoptosis and its underlying mechanisms.
Flow cytometry was used to enumerate EPCs in the peripheral blood of 91 patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Cultured EPCs, isolated from peripheral blood, were challenged with OPG, and apoptosis was evaluated by TUNEL staining. Expression of apoptosis-related proteins was measured by real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) and Western blotting. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) were detected by flow cytometry, and the expression of NADPH oxidase (NOX) and MAP kinases (MAPK) was measured by qPCR and Western blotting.
The serum OPG level was independently associated with reduced numbers of EPCs in patients with SLE. In vitro treatment with OPG significantly induced apoptosis of EPCs; this effect was mediated by syndecan 4. OPG-induced apoptosis was abolished by the ROS scavenger N-acetylcysteine and the NOX inhibitor diphenyleniodonium. OPG increased ROS production through activation of NOX-2 and NOX-4 and triggered phosphorylation of ERK-1/2 and p38 MAPK. Quenching of ROS by knockdown of NOX-2 or NOX-4 transcripts inhibited phosphorylation of ERK-1/2 and p38 MAPK. Moreover, inhibitors of ERK-1/2 and p38 MAPK decreased ROS production and subsequent EPC apoptosis, indicating a feed-forward loop between NOX and MAPK to amplify ROS production related to apoptosis.
Elevated OPG levels increase apoptosis of EPCs by induction of oxidative stress.