Inflammation in atherosclerosis: from pathophysiology to practice

J Am Coll Cardiol. 2009 Dec 1;54(23):2129-38. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2009.09.009.


Until recently, most envisaged atherosclerosis as a bland arterial collection of cholesterol, complicated by smooth muscle cell accumulation. According to that concept, endothelial denuding injury led to platelet aggregation and release of platelet factors which would trigger the proliferation of smooth muscle cells in the arterial intima. These cells would then elaborate an extracellular matrix that would entrap lipoproteins, forming the nidus of the atherosclerotic plaque. Beyond the vascular smooth muscle cells long recognized in atherosclerotic lesions, subsequent investigations identified immune cells and mediators at work in atheromata, implicating inflammation in this disease. Multiple independent pathways of evidence now pinpoint inflammation as a key regulatory process that links multiple risk factors for atherosclerosis and its complications with altered arterial biology. Knowledge has burgeoned regarding the operation of both innate and adaptive arms of immunity in atherogenesis, their interplay, and the balance of stimulatory and inhibitory pathways that regulate their participation in atheroma formation and complication. This revolution in our thinking about the pathophysiology of atherosclerosis has now begun to provide clinical insight and practical tools that may aid patient management. This review provides an update of the role of inflammation in atherogenesis and highlights how translation of these advances in basic science promises to change clinical practice.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anticholesteremic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Atherosclerosis* / drug therapy
  • Atherosclerosis* / etiology
  • Atherosclerosis* / metabolism
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cholesterol / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Inflammation* / complications
  • Inflammation* / drug therapy
  • Inflammation* / immunology
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / metabolism*
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / pathology
  • Platelet Aggregation / physiology*


  • Anticholesteremic Agents
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors
  • Cholesterol