Vascular smooth muscle cell in atherosclerosis

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Vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) exhibit phenotypic and functional plasticity in order to respond to vascular injury. In case of the vessel damage, VSMCs are able to switch from the quiescent ‘contractile’ phenotype to the ‘proinflammatory’ phenotype. This change is accompanied by decrease in expression of smooth muscle (SM)-specific markers responsible for SM contraction and production of proinflammatory mediators that modulate induction of proliferation and chemotaxis. Indeed, activated VSMCs could efficiently proliferate and migrate contributing to the vascular wall repair. However, in chronic inflammation that occurs in atherosclerosis, arterial VSMCs become aberrantly regulated and this leads to increased VSMC dedifferentiation and extracellular matrix formation in plaque areas. Proatherosclerotic switch in VSMC phenotype is a complex and multistep mechanism that may be induced by a variety of proinflammatory stimuli and hemodynamic alterations. Disturbances in hemodynamic forces could initiate the proinflammatory switch in VSMC phenotype even in pre-clinical stages of atherosclerosis. Proinflammatory signals play a crucial role in further dedifferentiation of VSMCs in affected vessels and propagation of pathological vascular remodelling.

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