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Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2009 Oct;29(10):1424-32. doi: 10.1161/ATVBAHA.108.180521. Epub 2009 Apr 16.

Heterogeneous in vivo behavior of monocyte subsets in atherosclerosis.

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  • 1Center for Systems Biology, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Simches Research Building, 185 Cambridge Street, Boston, MA 02114, USA.


Monocytes and macrophages play active roles in atherosclerosis, a chronic inflammatory disease that is a leading cause of death in the developed world. The prevailing paradigm states that, during human atherogenesis, monocytes accumulate in the arterial intima and differentiate into macrophages, which then ingest oxidized lipoproteins, secrete a diverse array of proinflammatory mediators, and eventually become foam cells, the key constituents of a vulnerable plaque. Yet monocytes are heterogeneous. In the mouse, one subset (Ly-6C(hi)) promotes inflammation, expands in hypercholesterolemic conditions, and selectively gives rise to macrophages in atheromata. A different subset (Ly-6C(lo)) attenuates inflammation and promotes angiogenesis and granulation tissue formation in models of tissue injury, but its role in atherosclerosis is largely unknown. In the human, monocyte heterogeneity is preserved but it is still unresolved how subsets correspond functionally. The contradistinctive properties of these cells suggest commitment for specific function before infiltrating tissue. Such commitment argues for discriminate targeting of deleterious subsets while sparing host defense and repair mechanisms. In addition to advancing our understanding of atherosclerosis, the ability to target and image monocyte subsets would allow us to evaluate drugs designed to selectively inhibit monocyte subset recruitment or function, and to stratify patients at risk for developing complications such as myocardial infarction or stroke. In this review we summarize recent advances of our understanding of the behavioral heterogeneity of monocytes during disease progression and outline emerging molecular imaging approaches to address key questions in the field.

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