The pigeon (Columba livia) model of spontaneous atherosclerosis


Multiple animal models have been employed to study human atherosclerosis, the principal cause of mortality in the United States. Each model has individual advantages related to specific pathologies. Initiation, the earliest disease phase, is best modeled by the White Carneau (WC-As) pigeon. Atherosclerosis develops spontaneously in the WC-As without either external manipulation or known risk factors. Furthermore, susceptibility is caused by a single gene defect inherited in an autosomal recessive manner. The Show Racer (SR-Ar) pigeon is resistant to atherosclerosis. Breed differences in the biochemistry and metabolism of celiac foci cells have been described. For example, WC-As have lower oxidative metabolism but higher amounts of chondroitin-6-sulfate and nonesterified fatty acids compared with SR-Ar. Gene expression in aortic smooth muscle cells was compared between breeds using representational difference analysis and microarray analysis. Energy metabolism and cellular phenotype were the chief gene expression differences. Glycolysis and synthetic cell types were related to the WC-As but oxidative metabolism and contractile cell types were related to the SR-Ar. Rosiglitazone, a PPARγ agonist, blocked RNA binding motif (RBMS1) expression in WC-As cells. The drug may act through the c-myc oncogene as RBMS1 is a c-myc target. Proteomic tests of aortic smooth muscle cells supported greater glycosylation in the WC-As and a transforming growth factor β effect in SR-Ar. Unoxidized fatty acids build up in WC-As cells because of their metabolic deficiency, ultimately preventing the contractile phenotype in these cells. The single gene responsible for the disease is likely regulatory in nature.

Publication Date


Journal Title

Poultry Science


Oxford University Press

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Scientific Contribution Number


Document Type



©2014 Poultry Science Association Inc.