The immunology of atherosclerosis

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Abstract

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, both in the general population and among patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD). In most cases, the underlying cause of the cardiovascular event is atherosclerosis — a chronic inflammatory disease. CKD accelerates atherosclerosis via augmentation of inflammation, perturbation of lipid metabolism, and other mechanisms. In the artery wall, subendothelial retention of plasma lipoproteins triggers monocyte-derived macrophages and T helper type 1 (TH1) cells to form atherosclerotic plaques. Inflammation is initiated by innate immune reactions to modified lipoproteins and is perpetuated by TH1 cells that react to autoantigens from the apolipoprotein B100 protein of LDL. Other T cells are also active in atherosclerotic lesions; regulatory T cells inhibit pathological inflammation, whereas TH17 cells can promote plaque fibrosis. The slow build-up of atherosclerotic plaques is asymptomatic, but plaque rupture or endothelial erosion can induce thrombus formation, leading to myocardial infarction or ischaemic stroke. Targeting risk factors for atherosclerosis has reduced mortality, but a need exists for novel therapies to stabilize plaques and to treat arterial inflammation. Patients with CKD would likely benefit from such preventive measures.

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