The rising epidemic of T2DM (Type 2 diabetes mellitus) worldwide is of significant concern. The inherently silent nature of the disease in its early stages precludes early detection; hence cardiovascular disease is often established by the time diabetes is diagnosed. This increased cardiovascular risk leads to significant morbidity and mortality in these individuals. Progressive development of complications as a result of previous exposure to metabolic disturbances appears to leave a long-lasting impression on cells of the vasculature that is not easily reversed and is termed ‘metabolic memory’. SMCs (smooth muscle cells) of blood vessel walls, through their inherent ability to switch between a contractile quiescent phenotype and an active secretory state, maintain vascular homoeostasis in health and development. This plasticity also confers SMCs with the essential capacity to adapt and remodel in pathological states. Emerging clinical and experimental studies propose that SMCs in diabetes may be functionally impaired and thus contribute to the increased incidence of macrovascular complications. Although this idea has general support, the underlying molecular mechanisms are currently unknown and hence are the subject of intense research. The aim of the present review is to explore and evaluate the current literature relating to the problem of vascular disease in T2DM and to discuss the critical role of SMCs in vascular remodelling. Possibilities for therapeutic strategies specifically at the level of T2DM SMCs, including recent novel advances in the areas of microRNAs and epigenetics, will be evaluated. Since restoring glucose control in diabetic patients has limited effect in ameliorating their cardiovascular risk, discovering alternative strategies that restrict or reverse disease progression is vital. Current research in this area will be discussed.

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