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Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2011 Dec;31(12):2787-91. doi: 10.1161/ATVBAHA.111.224899.

Autophagy in atherosclerosis: a potential drug target for plaque stabilization.

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  • 1Division of Pharmacology, University of Antwerp, Universiteitsplein 1, B-2610 Antwerp, Belgium.


Evidence is accumulating that autophagy occurs in advanced atherosclerotic plaques. Although there is an almost relentless discovery of molecules that are involved in autophagy, studies of selective autophagy induction or inhibition using knockout mice are just now beginning to reveal its biological significance. Most likely, autophagy safeguards plaque cells against cellular distress, in particular oxidative injury, by degrading the damaged intracellular material. In this way, autophagy is protective and contributes to cellular recovery in an unfavorable environment. Pharmacological approaches have recently been developed to stabilize vulnerable, rupture-prone lesions through induction of autophagy. This approach has proven to be successful in short-term studies. However, how autophagy induction affects processes such as inflammation remains to be elucidated and is currently under investigation. This review highlights the possibilities for exploiting autophagy as a drug target for plaque stabilization.

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