The biology behind the atherothrombotic effects of cigarette smoke

Nat Rev Cardiol. 2013 Apr;10(4):219-30. doi: 10.1038/nrcardio.2013.8. Epub 2013 Feb 5.


Cigarette smoke is an aerosol that contains >4,000 chemicals, including nicotine, carbon monoxide, acrolein, and oxidant compounds. Exposure to cigarette smoke induces multiple pathological effects in the endothelium, several of which are the result of oxidative stress initiated by reactive oxygen species, reactive nitrogen species, and other oxidant constituents of cigarette smoke. Cigarette-smoke exposure interferes adversely with the control of all stages of plaque formation and development and pathological thrombus formation. The reactive oxygen species in cigarette smoke contribute to oxidative stress, upregulation of inflammatory cytokines, and endothelial dysfunction, by reducing the bioavailability of nitric oxide. Plaque formation and the development of vulnerable plaques also result from exposure to cigarette smoke via the enhancement of inflammatory processes and the activation of matrix metalloproteases. Moreover, exposure to cigarette smoke results in platelet activation, stimulation of the coagulation cascade, and impairment of anticoagulative fibrinolysis. Many cigarette-smoke-mediated prothrombotic changes are quickly reversible upon smoking cessation. Public health efforts should urgently promote our understanding of current cigarette-smoke-induced cardiovascular pathology to encourage individuals to reduce their exposure to cigarette smoke and, therefore, the detrimental consequences of associated atherothrombotic disease.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Atherosclerosis / blood
  • Atherosclerosis / etiology*
  • Atherosclerosis / genetics
  • Atherosclerosis / pathology
  • Atherosclerosis / physiopathology
  • Disease Progression
  • Endothelium, Vascular / metabolism
  • Endothelium, Vascular / pathology
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiopathology
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Hemostasis
  • Humans
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism
  • Inhalation Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic
  • Risk Factors
  • Rupture, Spontaneous
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Thrombosis / blood
  • Thrombosis / etiology*
  • Thrombosis / genetics
  • Thrombosis / pathology
  • Thrombosis / physiopathology
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / adverse effects*


  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution