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Curr Pharm Des. 2009;15(10):1095-106.

Angiogenesis as risk factor for plaque vulnerability.

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Thoracic and Vascular Department, University of Pisa, Italy.


Atherosclerosis is now generally accepted as an inflammatory disease, characterized by degenerative changes and extracellular accumulation of lipid and cholesterol. The evolving inflammatory reaction plays an important role in the initiation of atherosclerotic plaques and their destabilization, converting a chronic process into an acute disorder with an ensuing thrombo-embolism. Neovascularization has been, also, recognized as an important process for the progression of atherosclerotic plaques. In fact, vulnerable atherosclerotic plaque prone to rupture are characterized by an enlarged necrotic core containing an increased number of vasa vasorum, apoptotic macrophages, and more frequent intraplaque haemorrhage. Various functional roles have been assigned to intimal microvessels. This network of immature blood vessels is a viable source of intraplaque haemorrhage providing erythrocyte-derived phospholipids and free cholesterol. However, it is still challenging and controversial the relationship between the very process of angiogenesis and its causal association with the progression and complication of atherosclerosis. The selective targeting of neoangiogenesis poses a possible approach for the elimination of pre-existing and new growth of microvessels. The identification of target lesions is a critical issue, because current technologies have yet to achieve the goal of characterizing plaque morphology to the degree necessary to correctly identify rupture-prone lesions according to pathologic criteria. However, few imaging techniques can be used to detect the neovascularization within the atherosclerotic plaque in vivo. This review discusses the potential role of intraplaque angiogenesis as risk factor for plaque vulnerability.

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