Age-Associated Mitochondrial Dysfunction Accelerates Atherogenesis

Daniel J. Tyrrell, Muriel G. Blin, Jianrui Song, Sherri C. Wood, Min Zhang, Daniel A. Beard, Daniel R. Goldstein*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

116 Citations (Scopus)


Rationale: Aging is one of the strongest risk factors for atherosclerosis. Yet whether aging increases the risk of atherosclerosis independently of chronic hyperlipidemia is not known. Objective: To determine if vascular aging before the induction of hyperlipidemia enhances atherogenesis. Methods and Results: We analyzed the aortas of young and aged normolipidemic wild type, disease-free mice and found that aging led to elevated IL (interleukin)-6 levels and mitochondrial dysfunction, associated with increased mitophagy and the associated protein Parkin. In aortic tissue culture, we found evidence that with aging mitochondrial dysfunction and IL-6 exist in a positive feedback loop. We triggered acute hyperlipidemia in aged and young mice by inducing liver-specific degradation of the LDL (low-density lipoprotein) receptor combined with a 10-week western diet and found that atherogenesis was enhanced in aged wild-type mice. Hyperlipidemia further reduced mitochondrial function and increased the levels of Parkin in the aortas of aged mice but not young mice. Genetic disruption of autophagy in smooth muscle cells of young mice exposed to hyperlipidemia led to increased aortic Parkin and IL-6 levels, impaired mitochondrial function, and enhanced atherogenesis. Importantly, enhancing mitophagy in aged, hyperlipidemic mice via oral administration of spermidine prevented the increase in aortic IL-6 and Parkin, attenuated mitochondrial dysfunction, and reduced atherogenesis. Conclusions: Before hyperlipidemia, aging elevates IL-6 and impairs mitochondrial function within the aorta, associated with enhanced mitophagy and increased Parkin levels. These age-associated changes prime the vasculature to exacerbate atherogenesis upon acute hyperlipidemia. Our work implies that novel therapeutics aimed at improving vascular mitochondrial bioenergetics or reducing inflammation before hyperlipidemia may reduce age-related atherosclerosis. Visual Overview: An online visual overview is available for this article.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)298-314
Number of pages17
JournalCirculation Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • aging
  • atherosclerosis
  • cardiovascular diseases
  • hyperlipidemias
  • mitochondria


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