Atherosclerosis, a chronic inflammatory disease of the vessel wall, involves multiple cell types of different origins, and complex interactions and signaling pathways between them. Autocrine and paracrine communication pathways provided by cytokines, chemokines, growth factors and lipid mediators are central to atherogenesis. However, it is becoming increasingly recognized that a more direct communication through both hemichannels and gap junction channels formed by connexins also plays an important role in atherosclerosis development. Three main connexins are expressed in cells involved in atherosclerosis: Cx37, Cx40 and Cx43. Cx37 is found in endothelial cells, monocytes/macrophages and platelets, Cx40 is predominantly an endothelial connexin, and Cx43 is found in a large variety of cells such as smooth muscle cells, resident and circulating leukocytes (neutrophils, dendritic cells, lymphocytes, activated macrophages, mast cells) and some endothelial cells. Here, we will systematically review the expression and function of connexins in cells and processes underlying atherosclerosis. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: The Communicating junctions, roles and dysfunctions.
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