Novel mechanisms and therapeutic targets in atherosclerosis: inflammation and beyond

Eur Heart J. 2023 Aug 1;44(29):2672-2681. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehad304.


This review based on the ESC William Harvey Lecture in Basic Science 2022 highlights recent experimental and translational progress on the therapeutic targeting of the inflammatory components in atherosclerosis, introducing novel strategies to limit side effects and to increase efficacy. Since the validation of the inflammatory paradigm in CANTOS and COLCOT, efforts to control the residual risk conferred by inflammation have centred on the NLRP3 inflammasome-driven IL-1β-IL6 axis. Interference with the co-stimulatory dyad CD40L-CD40 and selective targeting of tumour necrosis factor-receptor associated factors (TRAFs), namely the TRAF6-CD40 interaction in macrophages by small molecule inhibitors, harbour intriguing options to reduce established atherosclerosis and plaque instability without immune side effects. The chemokine system crucial for shaping immune cell recruitment and homoeostasis can be fine-tuned and modulated by its heterodimer interactome. Structure-function analysis enabled the design of cyclic, helical, or linked peptides specifically targeting or mimicking these interactions to limit atherosclerosis or thrombosis by blunting myeloid recruitment, boosting regulatory T cells, inhibiting platelet activity, or specifically blocking the atypical chemokine MIF without notable side effects. Finally, adventitial neuroimmune cardiovascular interfaces in advanced atherosclerosis show robust restructuring of innervation from perivascular ganglia and employ sensory neurons of dorsal root ganglia to enter the central nervous system and to establish an atherosclerosis-brain circuit sensor, while sympathetic and vagal efferents project to the celiac ganglion to create an atherosclerosis-brain circuit effector. Disrupting this circuitry by surgical or chemical sympathectomy limited disease progression and enhanced plaque stability, opening exciting perspectives for selective and tailored intervention beyond anti-inflammatory strategies.

Keywords: CXCR4; Checkpoint; Chemokines; Co-stimulatory molecule; NICI.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Atherosclerosis* / drug therapy
  • Chemokines / pharmacology
  • Chemokines / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / drug therapy
  • Macrophages / pathology
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic*


  • Chemokines