Introduction: Reduction of vascular inflammation might contribute to the beneficial effects of exercise. We hypothesized that 1) exercise would reduce carotid endothelial vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) and that 2) in vivo detection of carotid inflammation can be achieved in a large animal model using contrast-enhanced ultrasound (CEU) with VCAM-1–targeted microbubbles (MBs).
Methods: Familial hypercholesterolemic (FH) swine were divided into sedentary (Sed) and exercise-trained (Ex) groups. Ex pigs underwent 16–20 wk of treadmill aerobic exercise. At the end of the study, in vivo CEU with VCAM-1–targeted MBs and assessment of endothelial-dependent dilation (EDD) were performed in carotid arteries. VCAM-1 mRNA and protein expression were compared with markers of atherosclerotic disease and health, and in vitro EDD was assessed in carotid arteries.
Results: Exercise training neither reduced inflammation nor improved EDD in carotid arteries of FH swine. Markers of atherosclerosis including VCAM-1 were prominent in the bifurcation compared with the proximal or distal common carotid artery and inversely associated with phosphorylated and total endothelial nitric oxide synthase. Signal intensity from VCAM-1-to-control MBs positively correlated with carotid VCAM-1 protein expression, validating our technique.
Conclusion: These results first demonstrate that aerobic exercise has no effect on carotid endothelial inflammatory markers and EDD in FH swine. Second, our findings indicate that CEU using VCAM-1–targeted MBs can detect inflammation in vivo, providing strong foundations for longitudinal studies examining the effect of therapeutic interventions on the inflammatory status of the endothelium.