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Publications of the Week

Smooth Muscle Cell Fate and Plasticity in Atherosclerosis

By February 14, 2018No Comments

Current knowledge suggests that intimal smooth muscle cells (SMCs) in native atherosclerotic plaque derive mainly from the medial arterial layer. During this process, SMCs undergo complex structural and functional changes giving rise to a broad spectrum of phenotypes. Classically, intimal SMCs are described as dedifferentiated/synthetic SMCs, a phenotype characterized by reduced expression of contractile proteins. Intimal SMCs are considered to have a beneficial role by contributing to the fibrous cap and thereby stabilizing atherosclerotic plaque. However, intimal SMCs can lose their properties to such an extent that they become hard to identify, contribute significantly to the foam cell population, and acquire inflammatory-like cell features. This review highlights mechanisms of SMC plasticity in different stages of native atherosclerotic plaque formation, their potential for monoclonal or oligoclonal expansion, as well as recent findings demonstrating the underestimated deleterious role of SMCs in this disease.