Immune system and atherosclerosis: Hostile or friendly relationship

Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2022 Jan-Dec:36:3946320221092188. doi: 10.1177/03946320221092188.


Coronary artery disease has remained a major health challenge despite enormous progress in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment strategies. Formation of atherosclerotic plaque is a chronic process that is developmentally influenced by intrinsic and extrinsic determinants. Inflammation triggers atherosclerosis, and the fundamental element of inflammation is the immune system. The immune system involves in the atherosclerosis process by a variety of immune cells and a cocktail of mediators. It is believed that almost all main components of this system possess a profound contribution to the atherosclerosis. However, they play contradictory roles, either protective or progressive, in different stages of atherosclerosis progression. It is evident that monocytes are the first immune cells appeared in the atherosclerotic lesion. With the plaque growth, other types of the immune cells such as mast cells, and T lymphocytes are gradually involved. Each cell releases several cytokines which cause the recruitment of other immune cells to the lesion site. This is followed by affecting the expression of other cytokines as well as altering certain signaling pathways. All in all, a mix of intertwined interactions determine the final outcome in terms of mild or severe manifestations, either clinical or subclinical. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to precisely understand the kind and degree of contribution which is made by each immune component in order to stop the growing burden of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. In this review, we present a comprehensive appraisal on the role of immune cells in the atherosclerosis initiation and development.

Keywords: atherosclerosis; immune system; inflammation; plaque.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Atherosclerosis* / drug therapy
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Monocytes / metabolism
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic* / pathology


  • Cytokines