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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Monocytes and neutrophils expressing myeloperoxidase occur in fibrous caps and thrombi in unstable coronary plaques

Fabio R Tavora1, Mary Ripple2, Ling Li2 and Allen P Burke12*

Author Affiliations

1 Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, DC, 20306, USA

2 University of Maryland Medical Systems, Baltimore, MD, 21201, USA

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BMC Cardiovascular Disorders 2009, 9:27  doi:10.1186/1471-2261-9-27

Published: 23 June 2009



Myeloperoxidase (MPO) -containing macrophages and neutrophils have been described at sites of plaque rupture. The presence of these cells in precursor lesions to acute rupture (thin cap atheroma, or vulnerable plaque) and within thrombi adjacent to ruptures has not been described, nor an association with iron-containing macrophages within unstable plaques.


We studied 61 acute ruptures, 15 organizing ruptures, 31 thin cap fibroatheromas, and 28 fibroatheromas from 72 sudden coronary death victims by immunohistochemical and histochemical techniques. Inflammatory cells were typed with anti-CD68 (macrophages), anti-BP-30 (neutrophil bactericidal glycoprotein), and anti-MPO. Iron was localized by Mallory's Prussian blue stain. In selected plaques alpha smooth muscle actin (DAKO, Carpinteria, CA, clone M0851) was performed.


MPO positive cells were present in 79% of ruptured caps, 28% of thin cap fibroatheroma, and no fibroatheromas; neutrophils were present in 72% of ruptures, 8% of thin cap fibroatheromas, and no fibroatheromas. Iron containing foam cells were present in the caps of 93% of acute ruptures, of 85% of organizing ruptures, 20% of thin cap atheromas, and 10% of fibroatheromas. MPO positive cells were more frequent in occlusive than non-occlusive thrombi adjacent to ruptures (p = .006) and were more numerous in diabetics compared to non-diabetics (p = .002)


Unstable fibrous caps are more likely to contain MPO-positive cells, neutrophils, and iron-containing macrophages than fibrous caps of stable fibroatheromas. MPO-positive cells in thrombi adjacent to disrupted plaques are associated with occlusive thrombi and are more numerous in diabetic patients.