Raman spectroscopy imaging reveals interplay between atherosclerosis and medial calcification in the human aorta

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Science Advances  06 Dec 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 12, e1701156
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1701156

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Medial calcification in the human aorta accumulates during aging and is known to be aggravated in several diseases. Atherosclerosis, another major cause of cardiovascular calcification, shares some common aggravators. However, the mechanisms of cardiovascular calcification remain poorly understood. To elucidate the relationship between medial aortic calcification and atherosclerosis, we characterized the cross-sectional distributions of the predominant minerals in aortic tissue, apatite and whitlockite, and the associated extracellular matrix. We also compared the cellular changes between atherosclerotic and nonatherosclerotic human aortic tissues. This was achieved through the development of Raman spectroscopy imaging methods that adapted algorithms to distinguish between the major biomolecules present within these tissues. We present a relationship between apatite, cholesterol, and triglyceride in atherosclerosis, with the relative amount of all molecules concurrently increased in the atherosclerotic plaque. Further, the increase in apatite was disproportionately large in relation to whitlockite in the aortic media directly underlying a plaque, indicating that apatite is more pathologically significant in atherosclerosis-aggravated medial calcification. We also discovered a reduction of β-carotene in the whole aortic intima, including a plaque in atherosclerotic aortic tissues compared to nonatherosclerotic tissues. This unprecedented biomolecular characterization of the aortic tissue furthers our understanding of pathological and physiological cardiovascular calcification events in humans.

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