Neovascularization in human atherosclerosis

Curr Mol Med. 2006 Aug;6(5):457-77. doi: 10.2174/156652406778018635.


In the absence of disease, microvessels provide vessel wall nutrients to the tunica media, while the intima is fed by oxygen diffusion from the lumen. As disease evolves and the tunica intima thickens, oxygen diffusion is impaired, and microvessels become the major source for nutrients to the vessel wall. Microvessels serve as a port of entry for inflammatory cells, from the systemic circulation to the nascent atherosclerotic lesion. As disease progress, microvessels also play a role in intraplaque hemorrhage, lipid core expansion, and plaque rupture. In addition, microvessels are also involved in stent restenosis, and plaque regression. Therefore, microvessels are a pivotal component of atherosclerosis, and proper patient risk-stratification in the near future may include the detection of increased neovascularization in atherosclerotic lesions. This review divided in two parts summarizes the current understanding of atherosclerosis neovascularization, starting with the normal anatomy and physiology and progressing to more advanced stages of the disease. We will review the structure and function of vasa vasorum in health and disease, the mechanisms responsible for the angiogenic process, the role of the immune system, including inflammation and Toll-like receptors, and the pathology of microvessels in early atherosclerotic plaques. Furthermore, the review addresses the advanced stages of atherosclerosis, summarizing the progressive role for microvessels during disease progression, red blood cell extravasation, lipid core expansion, plaque rupture, healing, repair, restenosis, and disease regression, offering the clinician a state-of-the-art, "bench to bedside" approach to neovascularization in human atherosclerosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Atherosclerosis / pathology*
  • Coronary Restenosis / pathology
  • Coronary Vessels
  • Hemorrhage / pathology
  • Humans
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic*
  • Vasa Vasorum / pathology