Mechanisms of disease: atherosclerosis in autoimmune diseases

Nat Clin Pract Rheumatol. 2006 Feb;2(2):99-106. doi: 10.1038/ncprheum0092.


Atherosclerosis is a pathologic process affecting blood vessels, which leads to the development of cardiovascular disease. The immune system is involved in atherogenesis and in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. Several autoimmune rheumatic conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus and antiphospholipid syndrome, are characterized by enhanced atherosclerosis and consequently higher cardiovascular morbidity and mortality rates. Enhanced atherosclerosis, in these diseases, can manifest as overt cardiovascular diseases, but could be detected at an earlier stage by identification of abnormal endothelial function and arterial intima-media thickening. Both classical and nonclassical risk factors are presumed to contribute to atherosclerosis progression in rheumatic diseases. As atherosclerosis can be considered to be an immune-mediated process, several experimental strategies exist for its immunomodulation, including induction of immune tolerance. In this article, we briefly review the contribution of autoimmune elements, such as autoreactive lymphocytes and autoantibodies to atherosclerosis and discuss the nature of atherosclerosis in autoimmune rheumatic diseases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Antiphospholipid / immunology
  • Antibody Formation / physiology
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / immunology
  • Atherosclerosis / epidemiology
  • Atherosclerosis / immunology*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / epidemiology
  • Autoimmune Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Cholesterol, LDL / metabolism
  • Comorbidity
  • Disease Progression
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiopathology
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / analysis
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance
  • Immunity, Cellular / physiology
  • Immunoglobulins, Intravenous / therapeutic use
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / immunology
  • Risk Factors


  • Antibodies, Antiphospholipid
  • Cholesterol, LDL
  • Heat-Shock Proteins
  • Immunoglobulins, Intravenous