Atherosclerosis plays a major role in the development of cardiovascular disease including stroke and myocardial infarction. The development of atherosclerosis occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries. The plaque can be made of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other debris found in the blood. Plaque limits blood flow, and therefore oxygen flow to organs of the body. Plaques can also harden arteries and buildup, leading to severe health conditions such as heart attack and stroke. 1

Reactive oxygen species (ROS), or free radicals, contribute to the development of atherosclerosis through many mechanisms. Higher levels of lipids in blood vessels can lead to ROS development and results in endothelial inflammation. The bodies native immune system sends monocytes and other cells to the area of inflammation. This high density of cells and ROS create debris in the blood vessel, contributing to plaque buildup.  This can cause blockage, plaque disruptions, and potential thrombosis. The ROS presence makes it difficult for the body to maintain blood vessel and inflammatory homeostasis increasing the development of atherosclerosis.

A recent review of ROS contribution to atherosclerosis from Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology by Nowak, examines the mechanisms of endothelial cells, monocytes/macrophages, stem/progenitor cells. This review helps elucidate the role that ROS formation contributes to atherosclerosis and helps define potential therapies.

Regulation of ROS is important to avoid atherosclerosis pathogenesis. However, the body naturally utilizes ROS, as they play an important role in cellular pathways, making regulation complex. Antioxidants help to combat ROS damage, but would need to be targeted towards arterial inflammation as to not disrupt the function of ROS’s for cellular activity.

Why is this Clinically Relevant?

  • ROS can cause arterial inflammation
  • Inflammation increases plaque formation
  • Plaque formation from ROS can worsen atherosclerosis


Link to abstract

1Nowak WN, Deng J, Ruan XZ, Xu Q. Reactive Oxygen Species Generation and Atherosclerosis. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. 2017.

2What Is Atherosclerosis? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Published June 22, 2016. Accessed September 12, 2017.

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