Chronic administration of the poloxamer 407 (P-407), a block copolymer, to elevate serum lipids in mice is a well-established mouse model of hyperlipidemia and atherosclerosis. We tested the hypothesis that the activity of several types of proteases in heart and liver tissue is changed in the early stages of atherosclerosis development. Additionally, we evaluated whether increased serum lipids would induce anxiety in mice, as determined by using a ‘plus-maze’ test. The mice were administered P-407 by intraperitoneal injection twice a week for one month. P-407 administration to mice resulted in a marked increase in total serum cholesterol, atherogenic non-HDLcholesterol, and especially in total triglycerides, and it also increased anxiety. Morphological changes observed in P-407-treated mice included contractile type changes in cardiomyocytes and foamy macrophages in liver. A significant increase of cysteine proteases cathepsin B and cathepsin L (at 24 h) and aspartate protease cathepsin D (at both 24 h and 5 days) was determined in heart tissue following P-407 administration. However, no changes were noted in heart matrix metalloproteinase activity. The activity of cysteine and aspartate proteases was significantly increased in liver at both 24 hours and 5 days after P-407 administration. In conclusion, administration of P-407 to mice for one month resulted in increased anxiety, and more importantly, there was an increase in the activity of heart and liver proteases secondary to sustained dyslipidemia. It is suggested that heart and liver cysteine and aspartate proteases may represent potential therapeutic targets in the early stages of atherosclerosis.
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