C-reactive protein (CRP), an acute-phase reactant, is present in atherosclerotic human arterial intima in association with lipids. In the present work we studied interactions between CRP and LDL on microtitre wells, where either CRP or LDL was immobilized. LDL was modified by vortex-mixing, oxidation, or by lipolysis with phospholipase A2 or with sphingomyelinase or a combination of trypsin and cholesterol esterase. We found that CRP bound only to LDL modified by trypsin/cholesterol esterase or by sphingomyelinase and that this binding was Ca2+-dependent. In these two forms of modified LDL, non-esterified cholesterol was susceptible to cholesterol oxidase, indicating exposure of non-esterified cholesterol on particle surfaces and suggesting a role for non-esterified cholesterol in mediating CRP binding. Consistent with this hypothesis were the following findings: (i) increasing the amount of non-esterified cholesterol in LDL with cyclodextrin increased, and decreasing its amount decreased, the binding of CRP to LDL; (ii) modification of non-esterified cholesterol in LDL by cholesterol oxidase decreased the binding of CRP to LDL; and (iii) CRP bound to purified non-esterified cholesterol. The binding was Ca2+-dependent and could be competed out with phosphocholine. Taken together, these findings suggest that CRP can bind to modified lipoproteins, notably to the non-esterified cholesterol on their surface. These interactions may be related to the suggested role of CRP in the local inflammation present in atherosclerotic plaques.

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