The immunopathology of giant cell arteritis: diagnostic and therapeutic implications

J Neuroophthalmol. 2012 Sep;32(3):259-65. doi: 10.1097/WNO.0b013e318268aa9b.


Giant cell arteritis (GCA) is an important cause of preventable blindness, most commonly due to anterior ischemic optic neuropathy. Ischemic tissue injury is the end result of a process that begins within the walls of susceptible arteries in which local dendritic cells (DCs) recruit and activate CD4 T cells that, in turn, direct the activity of effector macrophages. In response to the immune attack, the blood vessel forms lumen-stenosing intima. Multiple cascades of excessive T-cell reactivity contribute to the autoimmune features of giant cell arteritis with TH1 and TH17 immunity responsible for the early phase and TH1 immunity promoting chronic-smoldering inflammation. These cascades are only partially overlapping, supporting the concept that a multitude of instigators induce and sustain vascular inflammation. The artery actively participates in the abnormal immune response through endogenous immune sentinels, so-called vascular DCs embedded in the adventitia. Advancing age, the strongest of all risk factors for GCA, contributes to both, the dysfunction of the immune system and the vascular system. Expansion of the therapeutic armamentarium for GCA needs to focus on approaches that mitigate the impact of the aging artery and adapt to the needs of the immunosenescent host.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Dendritic Cells / pathology
  • Endothelial Cells / pathology
  • Female
  • Giant Cell Arteritis* / diagnosis
  • Giant Cell Arteritis* / genetics
  • Giant Cell Arteritis* / immunology
  • Giant Cell Arteritis* / therapy
  • HLA Antigens / genetics
  • Humans
  • Macrophages / pathology
  • Male
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors


  • HLA Antigens