Vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) are key participants in both early- and late-stage atherosclerosis and influence neighbouring cells possibly by means of bioactive molecules, some of which are packed into extracellular vesicles (EVs). Proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9) is expressed and secreted by VSMCs. This study aimed to unravel the role of PCSK9 on VSMCs-derived EVs in terms of content and functionality. EVs were isolated from human VSMCs overexpressing human PCSK9 (VSMCPCSK9-EVs) and tested on endothelial cells, monocytes, macrophages and in a model of zebrafish embryos. Compared to EVs released from wild-type VSMCs, VSMCPCSK9-EVs caused a rise in the expression of adhesion molecules in endothelial cells and of pro-inflammatory cytokines in monocytes. These acquired an increased migratory capacity, a reduced oxidative phosphorylation and secreted proteins involved in immune response and immune effector processes. Concerning macrophages, VSMCPCSK9-EVs enhanced inflammatory milieu and uptake of oxidized low-density lipoproteins, whereas the migratory capacity was reduced. When injected into zebrafish embryos, VSMCPCSK9-EVs favoured the recruitment of macrophages toward the site of injection. The results of the present study provide evidence that PCSK9 plays an inflammatory role by means of EVs, at least by those derived from smooth muscle cells of vascular origin.
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