Doctor of Philosophy, Karolinska Institutet (2018)
Master of Science, Karolinska Institutet (2012)
Bachelor of Science, Karolinska Institutet (2010)
Joshua Knowles, Postdoctoral Faculty Sponsor
Plaque Evaluation by Ultrasound and Transcriptomics Reveals BCLAF1 as a Regulator of Smooth Muscle Cell Lipid Transdifferentiation in Atherosclerosis.
Arteriosclerosis, thrombosis, and vascular biology
BACKGROUND: Understanding the processes behind carotid plaque instability is necessary to develop methods for identification of patients and lesions with stroke risk. Here, we investigated molecular signatures in human plaques stratified by echogenicity as assessed by duplex ultrasound.METHODS: Lesion echogenicity was correlated to microarray gene expression profiles from carotid endarterectomies (n=96). The findings were extended into studies of human and mouse atherosclerotic lesions in situ, followed by functional investigations in vitro in human carotid smooth muscle cells (SMCs).RESULTS: Pathway analyses highlighted muscle differentiation, iron homeostasis, calcification, matrix organization, cell survival balance, and BCLAF1 (BCL2 [B-cell lymphoma 2]-associated transcription factor 1) as the most significant signatures. BCLAF1 was downregulated in echolucent plaques, positively correlated to proliferation and negatively to apoptosis. By immunohistochemistry, BCLAF1 was found in normal medial SMCs. It was repressed early during atherogenesis but reappeared in CD68+ cells in advanced plaques and interacted with BCL2 by proximity ligation assay. In cultured SMCs, BCLAF1 was induced by differentiation factors and mitogens and suppressed by macrophage-conditioned medium. BCLAF1 silencing led to downregulation of BCL2 and SMC markers, reduced proliferation, and increased apoptosis. Transdifferentiation of SMCs by oxLDL was accompanied by upregulation of BCLAF1, CD36, and CD68, while oxLDL exposure with BCLAF1 silencing preserved MYH (myosin heavy chain) 11 expression and prevented transdifferentiation. BCLAF1 was associated with expression of cell differentiation, contractility, viability, and inflammatory genes, as well as the scavenger receptors CD36 and CD68. BCLAF1 expression in CD68+/BCL2+ cells of SMC origin was verified in plaques from MYH11 lineage-tracing atherosclerotic mice. Moreover, BCLAF1 downregulation associated with vulnerability parameters and cardiovascular risk in patients with carotid atherosclerosis.CONCLUSIONS: Plaque echogenicity correlated with enrichment of distinct molecular pathways and identified BCLAF1, previously not described in atherosclerosis, as the most significant gene. Functionally, BCLAF1 seems necessary for survival and transdifferentiation of SMCs into a macrophage-like phenotype. The role of BCLAF1 in plaque vulnerability should be further evaluated.
View details for DOI 10.1161/ATVBAHA.121.317018
View details for PubMedID 35321563
Interactions of physical activity, muscular fitness, adiposity, and genetic risk for NAFLD.
Genetic predisposition and unhealthy lifestyle are risk factors for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). We investigated whether the genetic risk of NAFLD is modified by physical activity, muscular fitness, and/or adiposity. In up to 242,524 UK Biobank participants without excessive alcohol intake or known liver disease, we examined cross-sectional interactions and joint associations of physical activity, muscular fitness, body mass index (BMI), and a genetic risk score (GRS) with alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels and the proxy definition for suspected NAFLD of ALT levels > 30 U/L in women and >40 U/L in men. Genetic predisposition to NAFLD was quantified using a GRS consisting of 68 loci known to be associated with chronically elevated ALT. Physical activity was assessed using accelerometry, and muscular fitness was estimated by measuring handgrip strength. We found that increased physical activity and grip strength modestly attenuate genetic predisposition to elevation in ALT levels, whereas higher BMI markedly amplifies it (all p values < 0.001). Among those with normal weight and high level of physical activity, the odds of suspected NAFLD were 1.6-fold higher in those with high versus low genetic risk (reference group). In those with high genetic risk, the odds of suspected NAFLD were 12-fold higher in obese participants with low physical activity versus those with normal weight and high physical activity (odds ratio for NAFLD = 19.2 and 1.6, respectively, vs. reference group). Conclusion: In individuals with high genetic predisposition for NAFLD, maintaining a normal body weight and increased physical activity may reduce the risk of NAFLD.
View details for DOI 10.1002/hep4.1932
View details for PubMedID 35293152
Impact of a Social Marketing Intervention on General Practitioners' Antibiotic Prescribing Practices for Acute Respiratory Tract Complaints in Malta.
Antibiotics (Basel, Switzerland)
2021; 10 (4)
Introduction: Antibiotics are commonly prescribed in primary care for acute respiratory tract complaints (aRTCs), often inappropriately. Social marketing interventions could improve prescribing in such settings. We evaluate the impact of a social marketing intervention on general practitioners' (GPs') antibiotic prescribing for aRTCs in Malta. Methods: Changes in GPs' antibiotic prescribing were monitored over two surveillance periods between 2015 and 2018. Primary outcome: change in antibiotic prescription for aRTCs. Secondary outcomes: change in antibiotic prescription: (i) for immediate use, (ii) for delayed antibiotic prescription, (iii) by diagnosis, and (iv) by antibiotic class. Data were analysed using clustered analysis and interrupted time series analysis (ITSA). Results: Of 33 participating GPs, 18 successfully completed the study. Although clustered analyses showed a significant 3% decrease in overall antibiotic prescription (p = 0.024), ITSA showed no significant change overall (p = 0.264). Antibiotic prescription decreased significantly for the common cold (p < 0.001), otitis media (p = 0.044), and sinusitis (p = 0.004), but increased for pharyngitis (p = 0.015). Conclusions: The intervention resulted in modest improvements in GPs' antibiotic prescribing. A more top-down approach will likely be required for future initiatives to be successful in this setting, focusing on diagnostic and prescribing support like rapid diagnostic testing, prescribing guidelines, and standardised delayed antibiotic prescriptions.
View details for DOI 10.3390/antibiotics10040371
View details for PubMedID 33807404
Upregulated Autophagy in Calcific Aortic Valve Stenosis Confers Protection of Valvular Interstitial Cells.
International journal of molecular sciences
2019; 20 (6)
Autophagy serves as a cell survival mechanism which becomes dysregulated under pathological conditions and aging. Aortic valve thickening and calcification causing left ventricular outflow obstruction is known as calcific aortic valve stenosis (CAVS). CAVS is a chronic and progressive disease which increases in incidence and severity with age. Currently, no medical treatment exists for CAVS, and the role of autophagy in the disease remains largely unexplored. To further understand the role of autophagy in the progression of CAVS, we analyzed expression of key autophagy genes in healthy, thickened, and calcified valve tissue from 55 patients, and compared them with nine patients without significant CAVS, undergoing surgery for aortic regurgitation (AR). This revealed a upregulation in autophagy exclusively in the calcified tissue of CAVS patients. This difference in autophagy between CAVS and AR was explored by LC3 lipidation in valvular interstitial cells (VICs), revealing an upregulation in autophagic flux in CAVS patients. Inhibition of autophagy by bafilomycin-A1 led to a decrease in VIC survival. Finally, treatment of VICs with high phosphate led to an increase in autophagic activity. In conclusion, our data suggests that autophagy is upregulated in the calcified tissue of CAVS, serving as a compensatory and pro-survival mechanism.
View details for DOI 10.3390/ijms20061486
View details for PubMedID 30934548
Subclinical atherosclerosis and its progression are modulated by PLIN2 through a feed-forward loop between LXR and autophagy.
Journal of internal medicine
Hyperlipidemia is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis is the underlying cause of both myocardial infarction and stroke. We have previously shown that the Pro251 variant of perilipin-2 reduces plasma triglycerides and may therefore be beneficial to reduce atherosclerosis development.We sought to delineate putative beneficial effects of the Pro251 variant of perlipin-2 on subclinical atherosclerosis and the mechanism by which it acts.A pan-European cohort of high-risk individuals where carotid intima-media thickness has been assessed was adopted. Human primary monocyte-derived macrophages were prepared from whole blood from individuals recruited by perilipin-2 genotype, or from buffy coats from the Karolinska University hospital blood central.The Pro251 variant of perilipin-2 is associated with decreased intima-media thickness at baseline and 30 months follow-up. Using human primary monocyte-derived macrophages from carriers of the beneficial Pro251 variant we show that this variant increases autophagy activity, cholesterol efflux, and a controlled inflammatory response. Through extensive mechanistic studies we demonstrate that increase in autophagy activity is accompanied with an increase in liver-X-receptor (LXR) activity and that LXR and autophagy reciprocally activate each other in a feed-forward loop, regulated by CYP27A1 and 27OH-cholesterol.For the first time, we show that perilipin-2 affects susceptibility to human atherosclerosis through activation of autophagy and stimulation of cholesterol efflux. We demonstrate that perilipin-2 modulates levels of the LXR ligand 27OH-cholesterol and initiates a feed-forward loop where LXR and autophagy reciprocally activate each other; the mechanism by which perilipin-2 exerts its beneficial effects on subclinical atherosclerosis. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
View details for DOI 10.1111/joim.12951
View details for PubMedID 31251843
Identification of a novel proinsulin-associated SNP and demonstration that proinsulin is unlikely to be a causal factor in subclinical vascular remodelling using Mendelian randomisation
2017; 266: 196–204
Increased proinsulin relative to insulin levels have been associated with subclinical atherosclerosis (measured by carotid intima-media thickness (cIMT)) and are predictive of future cardiovascular disease (CVD), independently of established risk factors. The mechanisms linking proinsulin to atherosclerosis and CVD are unclear. A genome-wide meta-analysis has identified nine loci associated with circulating proinsulin levels. Using proinsulin-associated SNPs, we set out to use a Mendelian randomisation approach to test the hypothesis that proinsulin plays a causal role in subclinical vascular remodelling.We studied the high CVD-risk IMPROVE cohort (n = 3345), which has detailed biochemical phenotyping and repeated, state-of-the-art, high-resolution carotid ultrasound examinations. Genotyping was performed using Illumina Cardio-Metabo and Immuno arrays, which include reported proinsulin-associated loci. Participants with type 2 diabetes (n = 904) were omitted from the analysis. Linear regression was used to identify proinsulin-associated genetic variants.We identified a proinsulin locus on chromosome 15 (rs8029765) and replicated it in data from 20,003 additional individuals. An 11-SNP score, including the previously identified and the chromosome 15 proinsulin-associated loci, was significantly and negatively associated with baseline IMTmean and IMTmax (the primary cIMT phenotypes) but not with progression measures. However, MR-Eggers refuted any significant effect of the proinsulin-associated 11-SNP score, and a non-pleiotropic SNP score of three variants (including rs8029765) demonstrated no effect on baseline or progression cIMT measures.We identified a novel proinsulin-associated locus and demonstrated that whilst proinsulin levels are associated with cIMT measures, proinsulin per se is unlikely to have a causative effect on cIMT.
View details for PubMedID 29040868
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5679136