Nicotine potentiates proatherogenic effects of oxLDL by stimulating and upregulating macrophage CD36 signaling

Ming Sheng Zhou, Kiranmai Chadipiralla, Armando J. Mendez, Edgar A. Jaimes, Roy L. Silverstein, Keith Webster, Leopoldo Raij

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Cigarette smoking is a major risk factor for atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. CD36 mediates oxidized LDL (oxLDL) uptake and contributes to macrophage foam cell formation. We investigated a role for the CD36 pathway in nicotine-induced activation of macrophages and foam cell formation in vitro and in vivo. Nicotine in the same plasma concentration range found in smokers increased the CD36+/CD14+ cell population in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells, increased CD36 expression of human THP1 macrophages, and increased macrophage production of reactive oxygen species, PKCδ phosphorylation, and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-λ (PPARλ) expression. Nicotine-induced CD36 expression was suppressed by antioxidants and by specific PKCδ and PPARλ inhibitors, implicating mechanistic roles for these intermediates. Nicotine synergized with oxLDL to increase macrophage expression of CD36 and cytokines TNF-α, monocyte chemoattractant protein-1, IL-6, and CXCL9, all of which were prevented by CD36 small interfering (si)RNA. Incubation with oxLDL (50 μg/ml) for 72 h resulted in lipid deposition in macrophages and foam cell formation. Preincubation with nicotine further increased oxLDL-induced lipid accumulation and foam cell formation, which was also prevented by CD36 siRNA. Treatment of apoE-/- mice with nicotine markedly exacerbated inflammatory monocyte levels and atherosclerotic plaque accumulation, effects that were not seen in CD36-/- apoE-/- mice. Our results show that physiological levels of nicotine increase CD36 expression in macrophages, a pathway that may account at least in part for the known proinflammatory and proatherogenic properties of nicotine. These results identify such enhanced CD36 expression as a novel nicotine-mediated pathway that may constitute an independent risk factor for atherosclerosis in smokers. The results also suggest that exacerbated atherogenesis by this pathway may be an adverse side effect of extended use of high concentrations of nicotine independent of their mode of administration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)H563-H574
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 8 2013


  • CD36
  • Foam cell
  • Inflammatory cytokine
  • Macrophage
  • Nicotine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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