Cardiac allograft vasculopathy: central role of endothelial injury leading to transplant “atheroma”

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Abstract

Endothelial injury plays a central role in the pathophysiologic mechanisms underlying cardiac allograft vasculopathy (CAV). Although the accelerated course of CAV and its localization to the allograft support an important role for the alloimmune response, there is considerable evidence implicating lipoprotein abnormalities, metabolic disturbances, viral infections, and systemic inflammation in the process. This multifactorial basis for CAV may be put into a pathophysiologic context in which endothelial cell injury is the triggering event that initiates and drives the proliferative and fibrotic processes characteristic of CAV. In the transplant setting, endothelial cell injury is induced by multiple factors, including brain death, ischemia-reperfusion, alloimmune responses, and viral infections. Once initiated, propagation of the proliferative processes that ultimately lead to vascular occlusion is enhanced by the abnormal metabolic environment of elevated lipoproteins and insulin resistance encountered in most patients. This review examines the evidence for the role of potential triggers of endothelial injury in the pathophysiology of CAV and discusses the central role of the nitric oxide pathway in the disease process.

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