Novel concepts in atherogenesis: angiogenesis and hypoxia in atherosclerosis

J Pathol. 2009 May;218(1):7-29. doi: 10.1002/path.2518.


The clinical complications of atherosclerosis are caused by thrombus formation, which in turn results from rupture of an unstable atherosclerotic plaque. The formation of microvessels (angiogenesis) in an atherosclerotic plaque contributes to the development of plaques, increasing the risk of rupture. Microvessel content increases with human plaque progression and is likely stimulated by plaque hypoxia, reactive oxygen species and hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) signalling. The presence of plaque hypoxia is primarily determined by plaque inflammation (increasing oxygen demand), while the contribution of plaque thickness (reducing oxygen supply) seems to be minor. Inflammation and hypoxia are almost interchangeable and both stimuli may initiate HIF-driven angiogenesis in atherosclerosis. Despite the scarcity of microvessels in animal models, atherogenesis is not limited in these models. This suggests that abundant plaque angiogenesis is not a requirement for atherogenesis and may be a physiological response to the pathophysiological state of the arterial wall. However, the destruction of the integrity of microvessel endothelium likely leads to intraplaque haemorrhage and plaques at increased risk for rupture. Although a causal relation between the compromised microvessel structure and atherogenesis or between angiogenic stimuli and plaque angiogenesis remains tentative, both plaque angiogenesis and plaque hypoxia represent novel targets for non-invasive imaging of plaques at risk for rupture, potentially permitting early diagnosis and/or risk prediction of patients with atherosclerosis in the near future.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Angiogenesis Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Animals
  • Atherosclerosis / etiology*
  • Atherosclerosis / metabolism
  • Atherosclerosis / physiopathology
  • Disease Progression
  • Endothelial Cells / pathology
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / complications*
  • Hypoxia / metabolism
  • Hypoxia / physiopathology
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1 / metabolism
  • Lymphatic System / pathology
  • Microvessels / pathology
  • Models, Animal
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic*


  • Angiogenesis Inhibitors
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1