NKT cells in cardiovascular diseases

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Despite life-style advice and the prescription of cholesterol-lowering and anti-thrombotic drugs, cardiovascular diseases are still the leading cause of death worldwide. Therefore, there is an urgent need for new therapeutic strategies focussing on atherosclerosis, the major underlying pathology of cardiovascular diseases characterized by an accumulation of lipids in an inflamed arterial/vessel wall. CD1d-restricted lipid-sensing natural killer T (NKT) cells, bridging the innate and adaptive immunity, and CD1d-expressing antigen-presenting cells are detected in atherosclerotic lesions of mice and humans. In this review we will summarize studies that point to a critical role for NKT cells in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases by the secretion of pro-atherogenic cytokines and cytotoxins. These pro-atherogenic NKT cells are potential targets for new therapeutic strategies in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases. Additionally, proteins transferring lipids during atherosclerosis, which are also important in the loading of lipids onto CD1d and possible endogenous ligands responsible for the activation of NKT cells during atherosclerosis will be discussed.

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