Microcalcifications in early intimal lesions of atherosclerotic human coronary arteries

Am J Pathol. 2011 Jun;178(6):2879-87. doi: 10.1016/j.ajpath.2011.02.004. Epub 2011 Apr 30.


Although calcium (Ca) precipitation may play a pathogenic role in atherosclerosis, information on temporal patterns of microcalcifications in human coronary arteries, their relation to expression of calcification-regulating proteins, and colocalization with iron (Fe) and zinc (Zn) is scarce. Human coronary arteries were analyzed post mortem with a proton microprobe for element concentrations and stained (immuno)histochemically for morphological and calcification-regulating proteins. Microcalcifications were occasionally observed in preatheroma type I atherosclerotic intimal lesions. Their abundance increased in type II, III, and IV lesions. Moreover, their appearance preceded increased expression of calcification-regulating proteins, such as osteocalcin and bone morphogenetic protein-2. In contrast, their presence coincided with increased expression of uncarboxylated matrix Gla protein (MGP), whereas the content of carboxylated MGP was increased in type III and IV lesions, indicating delayed posttranslational conversion of biologically inactive into active MGP. Ca/phosphorus ratios of the microcalcifications varied from 1.6 to 3.0, including amorphous Ca phosphates. Approximately 75% of microcalcifications colocalized with the accumulation of Fe and Zn. We conclude that Ca microprecipitation occurs in the early stages of atherosclerosis, inferring a pathogenic role in the sequel of events, resulting in overt atherosclerotic lesions. Microcalcifications may be caused by local events triggering the precipitation of Ca rather than by increased expression of calcification-regulating proteins. The high degree of colocalization with Fe and Zn suggests a mutual relationship between these trace elements and early deposition of Ca salts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Atherosclerosis / complications*
  • Atherosclerosis / pathology*
  • Calcinosis / complications
  • Calcinosis / pathology*
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Cardiomyopathies / complications*
  • Cardiomyopathies / pathology*
  • Coronary Vessels / metabolism
  • Coronary Vessels / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Iron / metabolism
  • Middle Aged
  • Phosphorus / metabolism
  • Tunica Intima / metabolism
  • Tunica Intima / pathology*
  • Zinc / metabolism


  • Phosphorus
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Calcium