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J Anat. 2002 Jan;200(Pt 1):97-103.

Morphometric and immunohistochemical characterization of the intimal layer throughout the arterial system of elderly humans.

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Department of Cardiology, Heart Lung Institute, University Medical Center Utrecht, The Netherlands.


The purpose of the present study was to obtain insight into the natural development of adaptive intimal thickening and atherosclerosis in the arterial tree of human species. The morphometry and composition of the intimal layer were studied in the arterial system of elderly individuals. Post mortem, a total of 703 arterial segments were dissected from 24 subjects (age 81.9 +/- 9.9 years). From each subject, segments were dissected from 31 different arteries. Area stenosis [(plaque area/vessel area) x 100%] was determined in each segment. By (immuno)histochemistry, lipid content and the presence of inflammatory cells (macrophages) were assessed in the coronary, common carotid, brachial, radial and internal iliac arteries. Adaptive intimal thickening or advanced atherosclerosis was observed in all studied artery types. Area stenosis was highest in the coronary arteries (median, 30%) and lowest in the arteries supplying the brain (median, < or = 7%). Plaques hiding a lipid-rich core and plaques with macrophage infiltration were observed in all five selected artery types. In summary, the present observation demonstrates that intimal thickening is a systemic process involving most artery types. Within elderly humans, features of advanced atherosclerotic disease, a lipid-rich core and macrophages, can be observed in the intimal layer of artery types that are recognised for their relation with clinical syndroms as well as artery types that remain clinically silent.

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