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Journal of Atherosclerosis and Thrombosis
Vol. 10 (2003) No. 2 P 63-71




Atherosclerosis and its complications constitute the most common causes of death in Western societies and Japan. Although several theories or hypotheses about atherogenesis have been proposed during the past decades, none can completely explain the whole process of the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis because this disease is associated with multiple risk factors. In spite of this, the concept that atherosclerosis is a specific form of chronic inflammatory process resulting from interactions between plasma lipoproteins, cellular components ( monocyte/macrophages, T lymphocytes, endothelial cells and smooth muscle cells ) and the extracellular matrix of the arterial wall, is now well accepted. Histologically, atherosclerotic lesions from the early-stage ( fatty streak ) to more complicated lesions possess all the features of chronic inflammation. It has been demonstrated that atherogenic lipoproteins such as oxidized low density lipoprotein ( LDL ), remnant lipoprotein (β - VLDL) and lipoprotein [ Lp ] ( a ) play a critical role in the pro-inflammatory reaction, whereas high density lipoprotein ( HDL ), anti-atherogenic lipoproteins, exert anti-inflammatory functions. In cholesterol-fed animals, the earliest events in the arterial wall during atherogenesis are the adhesion of monocytes and lymphocytes to endothelial cells followed by the migration of these cells into the intima. It has been shown that these early events in atherosclerosis are triggered by the presence of high levels of atherogenic lipoproteins in the plasma and are mediated by inflammatory factors such as adhesion molecules and cytokines in the arterial wall. The development of genetically modified laboratory animals ( transgenic and knock-out mice and transgenic rabbits ) has provided a powerful approach for dissecting individual candidate genes and studying their cause-and-effect relationships in lesion formation and progression. The purpose of this article is to review the recent progress regarding the inflammatory processes during the development of atherosclerosis based on both human and experimental studies. In particular, we will address the mechanisms of atherogenic lipoproteins in terms of inflammatory reactions associated with hypercholesterolemia. Understanding the molecular mechanisms responsible for inflammatory reactions during atherogenesis may help us to develop novel therapeutic strategies to control, treat and prevent atherosclerosis in the future.

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