Atherosclerosis is an inflammatory disease of large arteries that is initiated through the activation of endothelium by proinflammatory mediators. CD40 receptor stimulation has been implicated in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. One of the most important atheroprotective stimuli is the viscous drag (shear stress) generated by the streaming blood acting on the endothelial monolayer. Here, we demonstrate that shear stress prevents CD40 ligand-induced endothelial cell activation, and we identify upregulation of TNF receptor-associated factor-3 (TRAF-3) as a potent CD40-inhibitory mechanism. Shear stress specifically upregulates TRAF-3 in cultured endothelial cells. Moreover, in the endothelial cells overlying human atherosclerotic plaques, TRAF-3 expression is upregulated in areas with high shear stress. Overexpression of TRAF-3 inhibits endothelial expression of proinflammatory cytokines and tissue factor and blocks DNA-binding activity of the transcription factor AP-1; it thereby prevents CD40-induced endothelial activation. Thus, upregulation of TRAF-3 represents a novel mechanism for preserving the functional integrity of the endothelial monolayer.
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