Ageing and atherosclerosis: vascular intrinsic and extrinsic factors and potential role of IL-6

Nat Rev Cardiol. 2021 Jan;18(1):58-68. doi: 10.1038/s41569-020-0431-7. Epub 2020 Sep 11.


The number of old people is rising worldwide, and advancing age is a major risk factor for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. However, the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon remain unclear. In this Review, we discuss vascular intrinsic and extrinsic mechanisms of how ageing influences the pathology of atherosclerosis. First, we focus on factors that are extrinsic to the vasculature. We discuss how ageing affects the development of myeloid cells leading to the expansion of certain myeloid cell clones and induces changes in myeloid cell functions that promote atherosclerosis via inflammation, including a potential role for IL-6. Next, we describe vascular intrinsic factors by which ageing promotes atherogenesis - in particular, the effects on mitochondrial function. Studies in mice and humans have shown that ageing leads to a decline in vascular mitochondrial function and impaired mitophagy. In mice, ageing is associated with an elevation in the levels of the inflammatory cytokine IL-6 in the aorta, which participates in a positive feedback loop with the impaired vascular mitochondrial function to accelerate atherogenesis. We speculate that vascular and myeloid cell ageing synergize, via IL-6 signalling, to accelerate atherosclerosis. Finally, we propose future avenues of clinical investigation and potential therapeutic approaches to reduce the burden of atherosclerosis in old people.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aging* / blood
  • Aging* / immunology
  • Atherosclerosis / blood
  • Atherosclerosis / immunology
  • Atherosclerosis / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-6* / blood
  • Interleukin-6* / immunology


  • Interleukin-6