Non-coding RNAs in cardiovascular cell biology and atherosclerosis

Cardiovasc Res. 2019 Oct 1;115(12):1732-1756. doi: 10.1093/cvr/cvz203.


Atherosclerosis underlies the predominant number of cardiovascular diseases and remains a leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. The development, progression and formation of clinically relevant atherosclerotic plaques involves the interaction of distinct and over-lapping mechanisms which dictate the roles and actions of multiple resident and recruited cell types including endothelial cells, vascular smooth muscle cells, and monocyte/macrophages. The discovery of non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) including microRNAs, long non-coding RNAs, and circular RNAs, and their identification as key mechanistic regulators of mRNA and protein expression has piqued interest in their potential contribution to atherosclerosis. Accruing evidence has revealed ncRNAs regulate pivotal cellular and molecular processes during all stages of atherosclerosis including cell invasion, growth, and survival; cellular uptake and efflux of lipids, expression and release of pro- and anti-inflammatory intermediaries, and proteolytic balance. The expression profile of ncRNAs within atherosclerotic lesions and the circulation have been determined with the aim of identifying individual or clusters of ncRNAs which may be viable therapeutic targets alongside deployment as biomarkers of atherosclerotic plaque progression. Consequently, numerous in vivo studies have been convened to determine the effects of moderating the function or expression of select ncRNAs in well-characterized animal models of atherosclerosis. Together, clinicopathological findings and studies in animal models have elucidated the multifaceted and frequently divergent effects ncRNAs impose both directly and indirectly on the formation and progression of atherosclerosis. From these findings' potential novel therapeutic targets and strategies have been discovered which may pave the way for further translational studies and possibly taken forward for clinical application.

Keywords: Atherosclerosis; Endothelial cells; Macrophages; Non-coding RNA; Vascular smooth muscle cells; microRNA.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arteries / metabolism*
  • Arteries / pathology
  • Atherosclerosis / genetics
  • Atherosclerosis / metabolism*
  • Atherosclerosis / pathology
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism
  • Endothelial Cells / pathology
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / metabolism
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / pathology
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic
  • RNA, Circular / genetics
  • RNA, Circular / metabolism
  • RNA, Long Noncoding / genetics
  • RNA, Long Noncoding / metabolism
  • RNA, Untranslated / genetics
  • RNA, Untranslated / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction


  • MicroRNAs
  • RNA, Circular
  • RNA, Long Noncoding
  • RNA, Untranslated