Interferon regulatory factor (IRF) 5 is a transcription factor known for promoting M1 type macrophage polarization in vitro. Given the central role of inflammatory macrophages in promoting atherosclerotic plaque progression we hypothesize that myeloid cell-specific deletion of Irf5 protects from atherosclerosis.
Female ApoeLysmIrf5 and ApoeIrf5 mice were fed a high cholesterol diet for 3 months. Atherosclerotic plaque size and compositions as well as inflammatory gene expression were analyzed. Mechanistically, IRF5-dependent bone marrow-derived macrophage cytokine profiles were tested under M1 and M2 polarizing conditions. Mixed bone marrow chimeras were generated to determine intrinsic IRF5-dependent effects on macrophage accumulation in atherosclerotic plaques.
Myeloid cell-specific Irf5 deficiency blunted LPS/IFNγ-induced inflammatory gene expression in vitro and in the atherosclerotic aorta in vivo. While atherosclerotic lesion size was not reduced in myeloid cell-specific Irf5-deficient Apoe mice, plaque composition was favorably altered, resembling a stable plaque phenotype with reduced macrophage and lipid contents, reduced inflammatory gene expression and increased collagen deposition alongside elevated Mertk and Tgfβ expression. Irf5-deficient macrophages, when directly competing with wild type macrophages in the same mouse, were less prone to accumulate in atherosclerotic lesion, independent of monocyte recruitment. Irf5-deficient monocytes, when exposed to oxidized low density lipoprotein, were less likely to differentiate into macrophage foam cells, and Irf5-deficient macrophages proliferated less in the plaque.
Our study provides genetic evidence that selectively altering macrophage polarization induces a stable plaque phenotype in mice.

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