Cationic proteins from eosinophils bind bone morphogenetic protein receptors promoting vascular calcification and atherogenesis

Zhaojie Meng, Shuya Zhang, Wei Li, Yunzhe Wang, Minjie Wang, Xin Liu, Cong Lin Liu, Sha Liao, Tianxiao Liu, Chongzhe Yang, Jes S. Lindholt, Lars M. Rasmussen, Lasse M. Obel, Jane Stubbe, Axel C. Diederichsen, Yong Sun, Yabing Chen, Paul B. Yu, Peter Libby, Guo Ping ShiJunli Guo

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AIMS: Blood eosinophil count and eosinophil cationic protein (ECP) concentration are risk factors of cardiovascular diseases. This study tested whether and how eosinophils and ECP contribute to vascular calcification and atherogenesis. METHODS AND RESULTS: Immunostaining revealed eosinophil accumulation in human and mouse atherosclerotic lesions. Eosinophil deficiency in ΔdblGATA mice slowed atherogenesis with increased lesion smooth muscle cell (SMC) content and reduced calcification. This protection in ΔdblGATA mice was muted when mice received donor eosinophils from wild-type (WT), Il4-/-, and Il13-/- mice or mouse eosinophil-associated-ribonuclease-1 (mEar1), a murine homologue of ECP. Eosinophils or mEar1 but not interleukin (IL) 4 or IL13 increased the calcification of SMC from WT mice but not those from Runt-related transcription factor-2 (Runx2) knockout mice. Immunoblot analyses showed that eosinophils and mEar1 activated Smad-1/5/8 but did not affect Smad-2/3 activation or expression of bone morphogenetic protein receptors (BMPR-1A/1B/2) or transforming growth factor (TGF)-β receptors (TGFBR1/2) in SMC from WT and Runx2 knockout mice. Immunoprecipitation showed that mEar1 formed immune complexes with BMPR-1A/1B but not TGFBR1/2. Immunofluorescence double-staining, ligand binding, and Scatchard plot analysis demonstrated that mEar1 bound to BMPR-1A and BMPR-1B with similar affinity. Likewise, human ECP and eosinophil-derived neurotoxin (EDN) also bound to BMPR-1A/1B on human vascular SMC and promoted SMC osteogenic differentiation. In a cohort of 5864 men from the Danish Cardiovascular Screening trial and its subpopulation of 394 participants, blood eosinophil counts and ECP levels correlated with the calcification scores of different arterial segments from coronary arteries to iliac arteries. CONCLUSION: Eosinophils release cationic proteins that can promote SMC calcification and atherogenesis using the BMPR-1A/1B-Smad-1/5/8-Runx2 signalling pathway.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Heart Journal
Issue number29
Pages (from-to)2763-2783
Publication statusPublished - 1. Aug 2023


  • Bone morphogenetic protein receptors
  • Calcification
  • Eosinophil
  • Eosinophil cationic protein
  • Smooth muscle cell


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