Inflammation and plaque vulnerability

J Intern Med. 2015 Nov;278(5):483-93. doi: 10.1111/joim.12406. Epub 2015 Aug 11.


Atherosclerosis is a maladaptive, nonresolving chronic inflammatory disease that occurs at sites of blood flow disturbance. The disease usually remains silent until a breakdown of integrity at the arterial surface triggers the formation of a thrombus. By occluding the lumen, the thrombus or emboli detaching from it elicits ischaemic symptoms that may be life-threatening. Two types of surface damage can cause atherothrombosis: plaque rupture and endothelial erosion. Plaque rupture is thought to be caused by loss of mechanical stability, often due to reduced tensile strength of the collagen cap surrounding the plaque. Therefore, plaques with reduced collagen content are thought to be more vulnerable than those with a thick collagen cap. Endothelial erosion, on the other hand, may occur after injurious insults to the endothelium instigated by metabolic disturbance or immune insults. This review discusses the molecular mechanisms involved in plaque vulnerability and the development of atherothrombosis.

Keywords: atherosclerosis; atherothrombosis; en-dothelial erosion; inflammation; plaque rupture.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cysteine Proteases / metabolism
  • Endothelium, Vascular* / metabolism
  • Endothelium, Vascular* / pathology
  • Endothelium, Vascular* / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / immunology*
  • Matrix Metalloproteinases / metabolism
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic* / complications
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic* / pathology
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic* / physiopathology
  • Rupture, Spontaneous / complications
  • Rupture, Spontaneous / metabolism
  • Rupture, Spontaneous / physiopathology
  • Thromboembolism / etiology


  • Cysteine Proteases
  • Matrix Metalloproteinases