Ultrastructural and histomorphologic properties of the internal thoracic artery: implications for coronary revascularization

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Coronary artery disease represents a major health problem worldwide for which coronary artery bypass surgery remains a standard of care. Among the several grafts that are available, the internal thoracic artery (ITA) has long been considered the best as several advantages have been described compared with other vessels (e.g. saphenous vein or radial artery), namely, an absent to minor atherosclerotic development. In fact, several studies showed the presence of preatherosclerotic lesions, such as intimal and/or medial thickening, medial fibrosis, among others, in the presence of certain cardiovascular risk factors as well as established atherosclerotic lesions (i.e. type II or more lesions). This paper primarily aimed at reviewing the current knowledge on the histomorphological characteristics of ITA as well as the comparative histomorphology of ITA with other vessel grafts currently in use in coronary surgery. As some of the evidence is not clear or consensual, this paper also aimed at reviewing the main histopathological, histomorphometrical, and ultrastructural findings in ITAs from patients with known cardiovascular risk factors (e.g. aging, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, smoking, and others). As the presence of preatherosclerotic and/or atherosclerotic lesions may compromise the success of the myocardial revascularization and lead to graft failure, contributing toward the associated morbidity and/or mortality, it is essential to improve the scientific knowledge on the structural characterization of ITAs and its correlation with the cardiovascular risk profile.

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