During inbreeding of Japanese wild mice (Mus musculus molossinus), we established a strain of mice with severe cutaneous xanthomatous lesions. Since those mice showed high plasma cholesterol values, we named them spontaneously hyperlipidemic (SHL) mice; total cholesterol values of these mice (even when fed on conventional low-fat diet) are unusually high throughout the life span. The xanthomatous lesions appear in palms and distal extremities of forelimbs as early as 4 weeks after birth, and continue to expand to chest, abdomen, and face until the mice die before 14 months of age. Histological examination of these lesions revealed cholesterol crystal deposits, an infiltration of foam cells or macrophages, while that of the vascular system revealed atherosclerosis in the aortic sinus. Immunoblot and Northern blot analyses failed to detect apolipoprotein E (APOE) expression in these animals. Consistent with these findings, Southern blot analysis found disruption of the Apoe gene in SHL mice. Phenotypes of SHL mice, however, were distinct from those of Apoe(tm/Unc) (hereafter Apoe(-/-)) mice, whose Apoe gene was disrupted by homologous recombination; hypercholesterolemia and xanthoma were more severe in SHL mice than in Apoe(-/-) mice, while atherosclerosis was milder in SHL mice. These distinctions suggest that there are modifier genes for the phenotypes. Alternatively, other gene(s), besides the Apoe gene, may be mutated in SHL mice. In either case, comparative genetic and molecular dissection of SHL mice will provide a good opportunity to understand the genetic basis for hyperlipidemia and atherosclerosis.
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