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Open Access Review

Immunity, atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease

Johan Frostegård

Author Affiliations

Karolinska Institutet, Institute of Environmental Medicine, Unit of Immunology and Chronic Disease, Nobels väg 13, Stockholm, 171 77, Sweden

BMC Medicine 2013, 11:117  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-11-117

Published: 1 May 2013


Atherosclerosis, the major cause of cardiovascular disease (CVD), is a chronic inflammatory condition with immune competent cells in lesions producing mainly pro-inflammatory cytokines. Dead cells and oxidized forms of low density lipoproteins (oxLDL) are abundant. The major direct cause of CVD appears to be rupture of atherosclerotic plaques. oxLDL has proinflammatory and immune-stimulatory properties, causes cell death at higher concentrations and contains inflammatory phospholipids with phosphorylcholine (PC) as an interesting epitope. Antibodies against PC (anti-PC) may be atheroprotective, one mechanism being anti-inflammatory. Bacteria and virus have been discussed, but it has been difficult to find direct evidence, and antibiotic trials have not been successful. Heat shock proteins could be one major target for atherogenic immune reactions. More direct causes of plaque rupture include pro-inflammatory cytokines, chemokines, and lipid mediators. To prove that inflammation is a cause of atherosclerosis and CVD, clinical studies with anti-inflammatory and/or immune-modulatory treatment are needed. The potential causes of immune reactions and inflammation in atherosclerosis and how inflammation can be targeted therapeutically to provide novel treatments for CVD are reviewed.

Immunity; Atherosclerosis; Cardiovascular disease; Phosholipids; Natural antibodies; T-cells; B-cells; Inflammation