T-cell activation is an essential feature of atherosclerotic plaque inflammation, which eventually may lead to plaque rupture. In this study, we investigated if EBV, a common herpes virus, is capable of stimulating atherosclerotic plaque derived T-cells and thus could contribute to atherosclerotic plaque inflammation.
Plaque derived T-cell cultures were established from symptomatic carotid atherosclerotic plaques of 19 patients. B-cells from the same patients were transformed with EBV to form lymphoblastoid cell lines (B-LCL) that served as antigen presenting cells. The proliferation of T-cells in the presence of autologous B-LCL was analyzed using 3H-thymidine incorporation. The presence of EBV in atherosclerotic material was analyzed by PCR.
Of the 19 cell obtained T-cell cultures, 11 responded to EBV (58%, mean stimulation index: 10.1 ± 3.1). PCR analysis showed that EBV DNA was present in 15 of the tissue samples (79%). All the specimens that contained EBV responding T-cells also contained EBV. EBV specific T-cells secreted granzymes, as indication of functional cytotoxic potential.
EBV-specific cytotoxic T-cells and EBV DNA can be frequently observed in human atherosclerotic plaques. This suggests that a T-cell response against EBV could contribute to plaque inflammation, and thus to the onset of acute clinical symptoms.