The smooth muscle cell: sinner or saint in restenosis and the acute coronary syndromes?

J Am Coll Cardiol. 1998 Jul;32(1):283-5. doi: 10.1016/s0735-1097(98)00216-2.


Proliferation of arterial smooth muscle cells has held center stage as the culprit in restenosis for almost two decades. Many strategies for combating restenosis target smooth muscle replication. However, none have proven beneficial in clinical trials. Indeed, inhibition of smooth muscle proliferation in human patients might produce the undesired effect of destabilizing vulnerable atherosclerotic plaques because these cells furnish the collagen responsible for the biomechanical strength of the plaque. Actually, in some cases the benefit of angioplasty may depend on stimulating smooth muscle replication and collagen elaboration, converting an "unstable" to a more stable plaque. Moreover, recent clinical and experimental evidence suggests that restenosis depends less on neointimal hyperplasia than on constrictive remodeling (i.e., advential scarring, producing a smaller lumen), a process independent of smooth muscle replication. The recognition that plaques vulnerable to disruption often do not produce flow-limiting stenoses highlights a need for reassessment of the strategies to treat or prevent the acute coronary syndromes. We should strive to treat aggressively risk factors such as hyperlipidemia whose control appears to stabilize plaques. Trials are even underway comparing such risk factor management with coronary artery intervention. If we could identify potentially unstable atheroma before they are evident, clinically, we might even contemplate angioplasty of nonsignificant stenoses to induce smooth muscle cell proliferation and reinforce the plaque's fibrous cap. This proposal may seem preposterous, yet we perform "primary" angioplasty every day in patients with an acute myocardial infarction whose "culprit" lesions underlying the thrombus are often not critical. Our knowledge of the biology of restenosis has lagged behind our practice of coronary intervention. Advances in understanding the biology of the complications of interventional therapy, hand in hand with technical advances, should help us to devise more rational and enduring approaches to benefiting our patients.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Division / physiology
  • Coronary Artery Disease / physiopathology
  • Coronary Artery Disease / therapy
  • Coronary Disease / physiopathology*
  • Coronary Disease / therapy
  • Coronary Thrombosis / physiopathology
  • Coronary Thrombosis / therapy
  • Coronary Vessels / physiopathology
  • Fibromuscular Dysplasia / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / physiopathology*
  • Recurrence
  • Stents