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Although several studies have shown that the serum levels of osteoprotegerin (OPG) are significantly elevated in patients affected with atherosclerotic lesions in coronary and peripheral arteries, the cellular source and the role of OPG in the physiopathology of atherosclerosis are not completely defined. Therefore, we aimed to investigate the potential contribution of mesenchymal stem cells in the production/release of OPG. OPG was detectable by immunohistochemistry in aortic and coronary atherosclerotic plaques, within or in proximity of intimal vascular smooth muscle cells (SMC). In addition, bone marrow mesenchymal stem cell (MSC)-derived vascular SMC as well as primary aortic SMC released in the culture supernatant significantly higher levels of OPG with respect to MSCderived endothelial cells (EC) or primary aortic EC. On the other hand, in vitro exposure to full-length human recombinant OPG significantly increased the proliferation rate of aortic SMC cultures, as monitored by bromodeoxyuridine incorporation. Taken together, these data suggest that OPG acts as an autocrine/paracrine growth factor for vascular SMC, which might contribute to the progression of atherosclerotic lesions.
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