2017 Volume 66 Issue 2 Pages 145-157
In order to examine their suitability for studies on coronary atherosclerosis, we evaluated the features of coronary atherosclerotic plaques in myocardial infarction-prone Watanabe heritable hyperlipidemic (WHHLMI) rabbits, a spontaneous animal model for coronary atherosclerosis and myocardial infarction. Coronary segments of the hearts of 187 WHHLMI rabbits (10–29 months old) were sectioned serially and stained histopathologically and immunohistologically. Progression of coronary lesions was prominent in rabbits that had died suddenly. The degree of coronary lesions of females was higher than that of males. Various types of atherosclerotic lesions were observed in the coronary arteries, such as plaques with a large lipid core covered by a thin fibrous cap, fatty streaks, early and advanced fibroatheromas, fibrous lesions, and advanced lesions with calcium accumulation and the vasa vasorum. In rabbits that had died suddenly, the frequencies of fibroatheromas or advanced lesions were higher than those of rabbits euthanized. Matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-positive macrophages were detected in gaps among endothelial cells at the plaque surface, beneath the fibrous cap of thin-capped fibroatheromas, and at the bottom of the intimal plaques in which the tunica media was attenuated. Immunohistological results suggest that MMP-positive macrophages are involved in the initiation, progression, and destabilization of coronary plaques, in addition to vascular remodeling, even in WHHLMI rabbits. In conclusion, coronary lesions in WHHLMI rabbits resemble human atherosclerotic lesions, and thus, the WHHLMI rabbit is a suitable animal model for studies on human coronary plaques.