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Atherosclerosis. 2012 Oct;224(2):309-17. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2012.05.013. Epub 2012 May 18.

Endothelial dysfunction in rheumatic autoimmune diseases.

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Department of Internal Medicine, Viale Benedetto XV, n. 6, University of Genoa, 16132 Genoa, Italy.


Rheumatic autoimmune diseases have been associated with accelerated atherosclerosis and various types of vasculopathies. Atherosclerosis is an inflammatory condition which starts as a "response to injury" favoring endothelial dysfunction which is associated with increased expression of adhesion molecules, pro-inflammatory cytokines, pro-thrombotic factors, oxidative stress upregulation and abnormal vascular tone modulation. Endothelial dysfunction in rheumatic autoimmune diseases involves innate immune responses, including macrophages and dendritic cells expression of scavenger and toll-like receptors for modified or native LDL as well as neutrophil and complement activation, and dysregulation of adaptive immune responses, including proliferation of autoreactive T-helper-1 lymphocytes and defective function of dendritic and regulatory T cells. Specific differences for endothelial function among different disorders include: a) increased amounts of pro-atherogenic hormones, decreased amounts of anti-atherogenic hormones and increased insulin resistance in rheumatoid arthritis; b) autoantibodies production in systemic lupus erythematosus and antiphospholipid syndrome; c) smooth muscle cells proliferation, destruction of internal elastic lamina, fibrosis and coagulation and fibrinolytic system dysfunction in systemic sclerosis. Several self-antigens (i.e. high density lipoproteins, heat shock proteins, β2-glycoprotein1) and self-molecules modified by oxidative events (i.e. low density lipoproteins and oxidized hemoglobin) have been identified as targets of autoimmune responses. Endothelial dysfunction leads to accelerated atherosclerosis in rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus and spondyloarthropaties whereas obliterative vasculopathy is associated with systemic sclerosis. In this paper, we will briefly review the most relevant information upon endothelial dysfunction and inflammatory mechanisms in atherosclerosis and we will summarize the similarities and differences in vascular disease patterns underlying different rheumatic autoimmune diseases.

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