Background: microRNAs (miRNAs) have drawn more attention to the progression of atherosclerosis (AS), due to their noticeable inflammation function in cardiovascular disease. Macrophages play a crucial role in disrupting atherosclerotic plaque, thereby we explored the involvement of miR-223-3p in the inflammatory response in macrophages.

Methods: RT-qPCR was used to analyze the miR-223-3p levels in carotid arteries and serum of AS patients. ROC curve was used to assess the diagnostic value of miR-223-3p. Movat staining was applied to evaluate the morphological differences. FISH was used to identify the expression of miR-223-3p in macrophages of atherosclerotic lesions. Bioinformatic analysis was performed. Double-immunofluorescence and western blot were performed to assess the inflammatory cytokine secretion and p-ERK1/2. C16-PAF was injected into the culture medium of the miR-223-3p mimic/NC-transfected macrophages with ox-LDL.

Results: MiR-223-3p was up-regulated in AS patients and was associated with a higher overall survival rate. MiR-223-3p was co-localized with CD68+ macrophages in vulnerable atherosclerotic lesions. MiR-223-3p mimics decreased atherosclerotic lesions, macrophages numbers whereas increased SMCs numbers in the lesions. The TNF-a immune-positive areas were reduced by miR-223-3p mimics. MAP2K1 was negatively associated with miR-223-3p. MiR-223-3p mimics reduced the inflammation and the MEK1/ERK1/2 signaling pathway in vivo and in vitro. C16-PAF reversed the effects of miR-223-3p mimics on inflammation and ERK1/2 signaling pathway.

Conclusions: MiR-223-3p negatively regulates inflammatory responses by the MEK1/ERK1/2 signaling pathway. Our study provides new insight into how miR-223-3p protects against atherosclerosis, representing a broader therapeutic prospect for treating atherosclerosis by miR-223-3p.