- Reviewing EditorTamer SallamUniversity of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, United States of America
- Senior EditorOlujimi AjijolaUniversity of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, United States of America
Reviewer #1 (Public Review):
This is an interesting study by Pinos and colleagues that examines the effect of beta carotene on atherosclerosis regression. The authors have previously shown that beta carotene reduces atherosclerosis progress and hepatic lipid metabolism, and now they seek to extend these findings by feeding mice a diet with excess beta carotene in a model of atherosclerosis regression (LDLR antisense oligo plus Western diet followed by LDLR sense oligo and chow diet). They show some metrics of lesion regression are increased upon beta carotene feeding (collagen content) while others remain equal to normal chow diet (macrophage content and lesion size). These effects are lost when beta carotene oxidase (BCO) is deleted. The study adds to the existing literature that beta carotene protects from atherosclerosis in general, and adds new information regarding regulatory T-cells. However, the study does not present significant evidence about how beta-carotene is affecting T-cells in atherosclerosis. For the most part, the conclusions are supported by the data presented, and the work is completed in multiple models, supporting its robustness. However there are a few areas that require additional information or evidence to support their conclusions and/or to align with the previously published work.
Specific additional areas of focus for the authors:
The premise of the story is that b-carotene is converted into retinoic acid, which acts as a ligand of the ROR transcription factor in T-regs. The authors measure hepatic markers of retinoic acid signaling (retinyl esters, Cyp26a1 expression) but none of these are measured in the lesion, which calls into question the conclusion that Tregs in the lesion are responsible for the regression observed with b-carotene supplementation.
There does not appear to be a strong effect of Tregs on the b-carotene induced pro-regression phenotype presented in Figure 5. The only major CD25+ cell dependent b-carotene effect is on collagen content, which matches with the findings in Figure 1 +2. This mechanistically might be very interesting and novel, yet the authors do not investigate this further or add any additional detail regarding this observation. This would greatly strengthen the study and the novelty of the findings overall as it relates to b-carotene and atherosclerosis.
The title indicates that beta-carotene induces Treg 'expansion' in the lesion, but this is not measured in the study.
In the revised manuscript, the authors provide quantification of an RA-responsive gene in the plaque as evidence that RA signalling is indeed elevated upon b-carotene supplementation. It is not reduced upon blocking CD25 (Tregs) which implies that other cells in addition to Tregs are impacted by b-carotene supplementation that favourably remodels the plaque. The authors properly account for this by tempering their conclusions and recognize that Tregs are only partially responsible for the plaque phenotype upon b-carotene supplementation.
The authors chose not to further investigate why b-carotene impacted collagen production, instead including a discussion point. In this reviewer's opinion, it is a missed opportunity but hopefully something that can be investigated further by others.
Reviewer #2 (Public Review):
Pinos et al present five atherosclerosis studies in mice to investigate the impact of dietary supplementation with b-carotene on plaque remodeling during resolution. The authors use either LDLR-ko mice or WT mice injected with ASO-LDLR to establish diet-induced hyperlipidemia and promote atherogenesis during 16 weeks, and then they promote resolution by switching the mice for 3 weeks to a regular chow, either deficient or supplemented with b-carotene. Supplementation was successful, as measured by hepatic accumulation of retinyl esters. As expected, chow diet led to reduced hyperlipidemia, and plaque remodeling (both reduced CD68+ macs and increased collagen contents) without actual changes in plaque size. But, b-carotene supplementation resulted in further increased collagen contents and, importantly, a large increase in plaque regulatory T-cells (TREG). This accumulation of TREG is specific to the plaque, as it was not observed in blood or spleen. The authors propose that the anti-inflammatory properties of these TREG explain the atheroprotective effect of b-carotene, and found that treatment with anti-CD25 antibodies (to induce systemic depletion of TREG) prevents b-carotene-stimulated increase in plaque collagen and TREG.
An obvious strength is the use of two different mouse models of atherogenesis, as well as genetic and interventional approaches. The analyses of aortic root plaque size and contents are rigorous and included both male and female mice (although the data was not segregated by sex). Unfortunately, the authors did not provide data on lesions in en face preparations of the whole aorta.
Overall, the conclusion that dietary supplementation with b-carotene may be atheroprotective via induction of TREG is reasonably supported by the evidence presented. Other conclusions put forth by the authors (e.g., that vitamin A production favors TREG production or that BCO1 deficiency reduces plasma cholesterol), however, will need further experimental evidence to be substantiated.
The authors claim that b-carotene reduces blood cholesterol, but data shown herein show no differences in plasma lipids between mice fed b-carotene-deficient and -supplemented diets (Figs. 1B, 2A, and S3A). Also, the authors present no experimental data to support the idea that BCO1 activity favors plaque TREG expansion (e.g., no TREG data in Fig 3 using Bco1-ko mice).
As the authors show, the treatment with anti-CD25 resulted in only partial suppression of TREG levels. Because CD25 is also expressed in some subpopulation of effector T-cells, this could potentially cloud the interpretation of the results. Data in Fig 4H showing loss of b-carotene-stimulated increase in numbers of FoxP3+GFP+ cells in the plaque should be taken cautiously, as they come from a small number of mice. Perhaps an orthogonal approach using FoxP3-DTR mice could have produced a more robust loss of TREG and further confirmation that the loss of plaque remodeling is indeed due to loss of TREG.