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Exp Mol Pathol. 2007 Jun;82(3):245-55. Epub 2007 Jan 12.

Accumulation of immune cells and high expression of chemokines/chemokine receptors in the upstream shoulder of atherosclerotic carotid plaques.

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Medical Clinic II, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg Ulmenweg 18, 91054 Erlangen, Germany.


The presence of immune cells is important for plaque destabilization. Disturbed flow conditions were shown to enhance the recruitment of circulating immune cells. Thus, we analyzed in 54 atherosclerotic carotid plaques the frequency of different immune cells, HLA-DR, chemokines, and chemokine receptors, comparing the upstream with the downstream plaque shoulder. The presence of neovascularization and intraplaque hemorrhages was investigated by CD34 immunostaining and Mallory's iron stain. Immunohistochemical analyses were performed to detect smooth muscle cells (SMC: actin), macrophages (CD68), T cells (CD3), dendritic cells (DC: fascin), mature DC (CD83), and the expression of HLA-DR, chemokine receptors (CCR-2, CCR-6), and chemokines (MCP-1, MIP-3alpha). Significantly more SMC were detected downstream than upstream (p<0.001). In contrast, significantly more macrophages (p=0.01), DC (p=0.03), mature DC (p=0.007), and a higher expression of HLA-DR (p=0.004), CCR-2 (p=0.002), CCR-6 (p<0.001), MCP-1 (p=0.04), and MIP-3alpha (p=NS) were observed upstream than downstream. Immune cells were strongly associated with neovascularization. The abundance of SMC downstream provides an explanation for distal plaque growth. Enhanced recruitment of immune cells through neovessels into the upstream shoulder might be contributing to plaque destabilization.

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