Analysis of serial ultrathin sections of the human aortic intima detected a new cell yet to be described in the literature. These cells, which we have designated Vascular Dendritic Cells, appeared in contact with each other and with other intimal cells. Vascular dendritic cells are characterised by ultrastructural features similar to those of dendritic cells, including a well developed smooth endoplasmic reticulum and the presence of several processes which were 3-5 or more times in excess of the size of the cell body. In areas of the normal aorta resistant to atherosclerosis, vascular dendritic cells were mainly localised in the subendothelial layer where they contacted both endothelial cells and smooth muscle cells. In areas of the normal aorta predisposed to atherosclerosis, vascular dendritic cells were distributed throughout the intima and the cellular interactions were altered with the vascular dendritic cells, developing multiple contacts with monocyte/macrophages and lymphocyte-like cells. Aortic areas predisposed to atherosclerosis showed the destruction of some vascular dendritic cell processes where they apposed endothelial cells.
We speculate that vascular dendritic cells (VDCs) are a variety of dendritic cell and are involved in the maintenance of homeostasis in normal arterial intima. Vascular dendritic cells may be important in the development of atherosclerotic lesions, possibly through an immune mechanism.
International Society of Histology and Cytology