Autoimmunity in atherosclerosis: a protective response losing control?

J Intern Med. 2008 May;263(5):464-78. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2796.2008.01945.x.


Atherosclerosis is a chronic inflammatory disease characterized by accumulation of oxidized lipoproteins, increased cell death and hypertrophic degeneration of the arterial intima. The disease process is associated with local formation of modified self antigens that are targeted by both innate and adaptive immune responses. Although it remains to be firmly established it is likely that these autoimmune responses initially have a beneficial effect facilitating the removal of potentially harmful rest products from oxidized LDL and dying cells. However, studies performed on hypercholesterolaemic mice deficient in different components of the immune system uniformly suggest that the net effect of immune activation is pro-atherogenic and that atherosclerosis, at least to some extent, should be regarded as an autoimmune disease. These observations point to the possibility of developing new treatments for atherosclerosis based on modulation of immune responses against plaque antigens, an approach presently tested clinically for several other chronic inflammatory diseases with autoimmune components. Pilot studies in animals have provided promising results for both parental and oral vaccines based on oxidized LDL antigens. The time when this concept is ready for clinical testing is rapidly approaching but it will be important not to underestimate the difficulties that will be encountered in transferring the promising results from experimental animals into humans.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Atherosclerosis / immunology*
  • Atherosclerosis / therapy
  • Autoantigens / immunology
  • Autoantigens / metabolism
  • Autoimmunity*
  • Child
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology
  • Dendritic Cells / metabolism
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / immunology
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lipoproteins, LDL / immunology
  • Lipoproteins, LDL / metabolism
  • Mice
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Th1 Cells / immunology
  • Th1 Cells / metabolism


  • Autoantigens
  • Heat-Shock Proteins
  • Lipoproteins, LDL
  • oxidized low density lipoprotein