The role of the monocyte in atherogenesis: I. Transition of blood-borne monocytes into foam cells in fatty lesions

Am J Pathol. 1981 May;103(2):181-90.


In a previous publication the author and his co-workers demonstrated that atherosclerotic lesion development in the aorta of hypercholesterolemic pigs was preceded by intimal penetration of blood-borne mononuclear cells, and that medial smooth muscle cells were not involved in the formation of early fatty lesions in this model. The current study shows that aortic arch lesions do not progress beyond the fatty cell lesion stage for up to 30 weeks of a moderate cholesterol/lard diet, although they become more extensive in area. Mononuclear cells were found adherent to the endothelium, in endothelial junctions, and in the intima during this period, and were ultrastructurally identified as monocytes by the presence of peroxidase-positive granules (peroxisomes) in their cytoplasm. In addition, lesion areas with nonspecific esterase activity correlated well with Sudan IV staining. Intimal monocytes and altered intimal monocytes with an enlarged cytoplasm and containing a few lipid droplets were both shown to be phagocytic by their uptake of ferritin, which had penetrated the intima after intravenous injection. Circulating monocytes and those adherent to the endothelial surface did not contain ferritin in these animals. The results indicate that blood mononuclear cells associated with lesion formation in this model are, in fact, monocytes, which subsequently undergo transformation into macrophage foam cells in fatty streak lesions. The absence of medial cell involvement indicates that monocytes are the major foam cell precursor in these lesions.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arteriosclerosis / metabolism
  • Arteriosclerosis / pathology*
  • Diet, Atherogenic
  • Esterases / metabolism
  • Monocytes / metabolism
  • Monocytes / pathology*
  • Peroxidases / metabolism
  • Swine


  • Peroxidases
  • Esterases