Biology of calcification in vascular cells: intima versus media

Herz. 2001 Jun;26(4):245-51. doi: 10.1007/pl00002027.


Background: Vascular calcification occurs at two distinct sites within the vessel wall: the intima and the media. Intimal calcification occurs in the context of atherosclerosis, associated with lipid, macrophages and vascular smooth muscle cells, whereas medial calcification can exist independently of atherosclerosis and is associated with elastin and vascular smooth muscle cells.

Pathogenesis: In this review we compare intimal and medial calcification, particularly discussing the mechanisms which may be responsible for each type of calcification. Similar mechanisms probably initiate and regulate both forms of calcification including the generation of matrix vesicles/apoptotic bodies and local expression of mineralization-regulating proteins. However, since different modifying agents such as lipids in the intima and elastin in the media are present at the sites of calcification and are associated with particular diseases, this implies that the etiologies of these processes differ. For example, intimal calcification is associated with atherosclerosis while medial calcification occurs commonly in the diabetic neuropathic leg.

Clinical importance: Since both types of calcification correlate with significant morbidity and mortality, we discuss the different types of calcification in terms of their clinical importance.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Arteriosclerosis / etiology
  • Arteriosclerosis / pathology*
  • Arteriosclerosis / physiopathology
  • Calcinosis / etiology
  • Calcinosis / genetics
  • Calcinosis / pathology*
  • Calcinosis / physiopathology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Coronary Artery Disease / etiology
  • Coronary Artery Disease / pathology
  • Coronary Artery Disease / physiopathology
  • Diabetic Neuropathies / etiology
  • Diabetic Neuropathies / pathology
  • Elastin / metabolism
  • Elastin / physiology
  • Endothelium, Vascular / pathology*
  • Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / metabolism
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / pathology
  • Phenotype
  • Risk Factors
  • Tunica Intima / pathology*


  • Elastin