Background/Aims: Since elevated plasma levels of osteoprotegerin (OPG) represent a risk factor for death and heart failure in patients affected by diabetes mellitus and coronary artery disease, this study aimed to elucidate potential roles of OPG in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. Methods and Results: Recombinant human full-length OPG, used at concentrations comparable to the elevated levels found in the serum of diabetic patients, significantly increased the proliferation rate of rodent vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMC). To mimic the moderate chronic elevation of OPG observed in diabetic patients, low doses (1 µg/mouse) of full-length human OPG were injected intraperitoneally every 3 weeks in diabetic apolipoprotein E (apoE)-null mice. The group of animals treated for 12 weeks with recombinant OPG showed a small increase in the total aortic plaque area at necropsy in comparison to vehicle-treated animals. Importantly, while no differences in the amount of interstitial collagen or the degree of macrophage infiltration were observed between OPG-treated and vehicle-treated apoE-null diabetic animals, a significant increase in the number of α-actin-positive smooth muscle cells was observed in the plaques of OPG-treated mice. Conclusions: Our data suggest that OPG promotes VSMC proliferation and might be directly involved in pathogenetic aspects of atherosclerosis.

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