Evidence for infectious agents in cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis

Lancet Infect Dis. 2002 Jan;2(1):11-7. doi: 10.1016/s1473-3099(01)00168-2.


During the past decade, several novel risk factors for atherosclerosis, including inflammation and infections, have been reported. Seroepidemiological studies suggest an association between several microbes and coronary heart disease. Microbes or their structural components are found in atherosclerotic plaques, but the only intact microbes commonly present are herpes viruses and Chlamydia pneumoniae. These agents are able to initiate and accelerate atherosclerosis in animal models. If they cause persistent infection in the vessel wall, they can directly promote a proinflammatory, procoagulant, and proatherogenic environment. Microbes could also have a remote effect--e.g., bacterial heat shock proteins with high sequence homology with human counterpart could, in the presence of a chronic infection, induce autoimmunity against vascular cells, and lead to an atherosclerotic process. Several intervention trials with antibiotics are underway, and will hopefully shed new light on the role of bacteria in atherosclerosis. The causal relationship can be proved by use of vaccination to prevent infections.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arteriosclerosis* / etiology
  • Arteriosclerosis* / microbiology
  • Arteriosclerosis* / virology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / etiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / microbiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / virology
  • Chlamydophila pneumoniae / isolation & purification
  • Chlamydophila pneumoniae / pathogenicity*
  • Communicable Diseases / complications*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Male
  • Models, Animal
  • Risk Factors
  • Seroepidemiologic Studies
  • Simplexvirus / isolation & purification
  • Simplexvirus / pathogenicity*