Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in several countries. The underlying process is atherosclerosis, a slowly progressing chronic disorder that can lead to intravascular thrombosis. There is overwhelming evidence for the underlying importance of our immune system in atherosclerosis. Monocytes, which comprise part of the innate immune system, can be recruited to inflamed endothelium and this recruitment has been shown to be proportional to the extent of atherosclerotic disease. Monocytes undergo migration into the vasculature, they differentiate into macrophage phenotypes, which are highly phagocytic and can scavenge modified lipids, leading to foam cell formation and development of the lipid-rich atheroma core. This increased influx leads to a highly inflammatory environment and along with other immune cells can increase the risk in the development of the unstable atherosclerotic plaque phenotype. The present review provides an overview and description of the immunological aspect of innate and adaptive immune cell subsets in atherosclerosis, by defining their interaction with the vascular environment, modified lipids and other cellular exchanges. There is a particular focus on monocytes and macrophages, but shorter descriptions of dendritic cells, lymphocyte populations, neutrophils, mast cells and platelets are also included.

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