Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Atherosclerosis, a leading cause of CAD, is initiated by the transmigration of innate immune monocytes to inflammatory sites of deposited lipid called fatty streaks, which are present in arterial walls of medium to large arteries. The key pathogenic feature of lesions at this early stage of atherosclerosis is the maturation of monocytes which migrate into arteries to form foam cells or lipid-laden macrophages. Considerable evidence supports the hypothesis that risk of atherosclerosis is increased by chronic inflammatory conditions accompanying diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and HIV, as well as general ageing, and that this risk is predicted by monocyte activation. While mouse models provide a good platform to investigate the role of monocytes in atherogenesis in vivo, they require genetic alteration of natural cholesterol metabolism and drastic alteration of normal mouse diets, and have limited suitability for the study of atherogenic influences of human comorbid diseases. This motivated us to develop a human in vitro model to measure the atherogenic potential of monocytes isolated from individuals with defined disease states. Currently, human in vitro models are limiting in that they evaluate monocyte transmigration and foam cell formation in isolation. Here we describe a protocol in which monocytes isolated from patient blood transmigrate across human endothelial cells into a type 1 collagen matrix, and their propensity to mature into foam cells in the presence or absence of exogenous lipid is measured. The protocol has been validated for the use of human monocytes purified from individuals with HIV infection and elderly HIV uninfected individuals. This model is versatile and allows monocyte transmigration and foam cell formation to be evaluated using either microscopy or flow cytometry as well as allowing the assessment of atherogenic factors present in serum or plasma.
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