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J Nutr. 2001 Oct;131(10):2798S-2804S.

Do pathogens accelerate atherosclerosis?

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  • 1Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology and The Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute, Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland OR 97201, USA.


Infection with the pathogens human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) or Chlamydia pneumonia (CP) is linked to the development of vascular disease, including atherosclerosis. The role of pathogens in vasculopathies has been controversial. However, animal models have demonstrated a direct link between infection with CP and herpesviruses and the development of vascular disease. Clinical studies have shown a direct association of HCMV and CP with the acceleration of vascular disease. This article will review the evidence supporting the role for CP and HCMV in the development of vascular disease and will suggest a potential mechanism for HCMV acceleration of the disease process. Vascular diseases are the result of either mechanical or immune-related injury followed by inflammation and subsequent smooth muscle cell (SMC) proliferation and/or migration from the vessel media to the intima, which culminates in vessel narrowing. A number of in vitro and in vivo models have provided potential mechanisms involved in pathogen-mediated vascular disease. Recently, we have demonstrated that HCMV infection of arterial but not venous SMC results in significant cellular migration in vitro. Migration was dependent on expression of the HCMV-encoded chemokine receptors, US28, and the presence of the chemokines, RANTES or MCP-1. Migration involved chemotaxis and provided the first evidence that viruses may induce migration of SMC toward sites of chemokine production through the expression of a virally encoded chemokine receptor in infected SMC. Because SMC migration into the neointimal space is the hallmark of vascular disease, these observations provide a molecular link between HCMV and the development of vascular disease.

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