Background and purpose: Ezetimibe, a selective inhibitor of intestinal cholesterol absorption, might also suppress inflammatory components of atherogenesis. We have studied the effects of ezetimibe on two characteristics of atherosclerotic plaques (infiltrate and fibrosis) and on expression of inflammatory genes in a rabbit model of accelerated atherosclerosis.
Experimental approach: Femoral atherosclerosis was induced by a combination of endothelial desiccation and atherogenic diet. Animals were randomized to ezetimibe (0.6 mg·kg−1·day−1), simvastatin (5 mg·kg−1·day−1), ezetimibe plus simvastatin or no treatment, still on atherogenic diet. A control group of rabbits received normolipidemic diet.
Key results: Rabbits fed the normolipidemic diet showed normal plasma lipid levels. Either the normolipidemic diet or drug treatment reduced the intima/media ratio (normolipidemic diet: 22%, ezetimibe: 13%, simvastatin: 27%, ezetimibe + simvastatin: 28%), compared with rabbits with atherosclerosis. Ezetimibe also decreased macrophage content and monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 expression in atherosclerotic lesions. Furthermore, ezetimibe reduced the increased activity of nuclear factor κB in peripheral blood leucocytes and plasma C-reactive protein levels in rabbits with atherosclerosis. In THP-1 cells, ezetimibe decreased monocyte chemoattractant protein-1-induced monocyte migration. Importantly, the combination of ezetimibe with simvastatin was associated with a more significant reduction in plaque monocyte/macrophage content and some proinflammatory markers than observed with each drug alone.
Conclusions and implications: Ezetimibe had beneficial effects both on atherosclerosis progression and plaque stabilization and showed additional anti-atherogenic benefits when combined with simvastatin. Its effect on monocyte migration provides a potentially beneficial action, in addition to its effects on lipids.