1. Atherosclerosis and aneurysm of the abdominal aorta are associated with thinning of the medial connective tissue. We have investigated the presence of the connective-tissue-degrading metalloproteinases in homogenates prepared from atherosclerotic, aneurysmal and control aortic media.

2. Gelatinase activity was much increased in homogenates from atherosclerotic and aneurysmal aorta [10.911.8 and 13.3 ± 3.3 μg of gelatin hydrolysed h−1 (mg of protein)−1 respectively]. This gelatinase activity was highest at the luminal aspect of the aortic media, where the activity increased three-to five-fold after the destruction of α2-macroglobulin. Zymograms demonstrated the principal gelatinase in atherosclerotic aorta to have a molecular mass of about 92 kDa, whereas in aneurysmal aorta there was a spectrum of gelatinase activity from 92 to 55 kDa.

3. Collagenase and stromelysin (proteoglycanase) could be detected by immunoblotting in homogenates of aneurysmal aorta, but rarely in atherosclerotic aorta and never in control aorta. Collagenase and stromelysin activities were low, but increased two-to three-fold after the destruction of tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases. Collagenase and stromelysin activities were highest at the adventitial aspect of aneurysmal media.

4. The secretion of gelatinase by inflammatory cells at the intima of diseased aorta could have a pathological role in establishing atherosclerotic plaques and medial thinning. Secretion of collagenase, gelatinase and stromelysin from the adventitia could accelerate connective tissue degradation in the media of aneurysmal aorta.

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