Diabetes is characterized by accelerated atherosclerosis with widely distributed vascular lesions. An important mechanism by which hyperglycaemia contributes to vascular injury is through the extensive intracellular and extracellular formation of AGEs (advanced glycation end products). AGEs represent a heterogeneous group of proteins, lipids and nucleic acids, irreversibly cross-linked with reducing sugars. AGEs are implicated in the atherosclerotic process, either directly or via receptor-mediated mechanisms, the most extensively studied receptor being RAGE (receptor for AGEs). The AGE–RAGE interaction alters cellular signalling, promotes gene expression and enhances the release of pro-inflammatory molecules. It elicits the generation of oxidative stress in numerous cell types. The importance of the AGE–RAGE interaction and downstream pathways leading to injurious effects as a result of chronic hyperglycaemia in the development, progression and instability of diabetic atherosclerotic lesions has been amply demonstrated in animal studies. Moreover, the deleterious link of AGEs with diabetic vascular complications has been suggested in many human studies. In the present review, our current understanding of their role as an important mediator of vascular injury through the various stages of atherosclerosis in diabetes will be reviewed and critically assessed.

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