Background: Although the association between inflammation and atherosclerosis is well established, the biologic events that trigger the local inflammatory response within plaque are not fully understood. Cytotoxic free radicals and infectious agents, both of which are associated with an inflammatory response, have previously been implicated in the initiation and progression of atherosclerosis. In this study, we analyzed carotid plaque for evidence of oxidative vascular injury by determining the presence and distribution of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) expression and nitrotyrosine formation and for evidence of infection with cytomegalovirus. Methods: Carotid plaque from 51 patients who underwent endarterectomy for either primary (n = 37) or recurrent (n = 14) stenosis were examined histologically (hematoxylineosin staining and Masson's trichrome staining) and with immunohistochemistry with specific antibodies to α-smooth muscle actin, macrophages (CD68), T-lymphocytes (CD3), and T-cell activation (human leukocyte antigen-DR). Twenty-eight specimens from patients with primary (n = 15) and recurrent (n = 13) stenosis were examined for the presence of iNOS and nitrotyrosine with immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization (iNOS). Twenty-three additional specimens (22 primary, and 1 recurrent) were analyzed with antibodies to p53, cytomegalovirus, and the polymerase chain reaction (cytomegalovirus, n = 8). Results: Primary atherosclerotic lesions were either complex heterogenous cellular plaques (n = 29) or relatively acellular fibrous plaques (n = 8). Ten of 14 recurrent plaques were either complex or fibrous lesions, and the remaining four were typical of myointimal thickening. CD68-positive staining cells were detected in all specimens regardless of their structural morphology. CD3-positive cells were interspersed between macrophages in all heterogeneous cellular plaques and only infrequently noted in fibrous plaques, iNOS and nitrotyrosine immunoreactivity were detected in macrophages and smooth muscle cells in all complex and fibrous plaques and in two of four myointimal plaques. The presence of iNOS and nitrotyrosine in plaque correlated with the existence of symptoms in 80% of primary and 62% of recurrent lesions. Cytomegalovirus was detected in only two of 23 carotid specimens (9%). Conclusion: The association between ischemic cerebrovascular symptoms and iNOS and nitrotyrosine immunoreactivity in complex primary and recurrent carotid plaque and the infrequent occurrence of cytomegalovirus in primary carotid lesions suggests that ongoing free radical oxidative damage rather than viral infection may contribute to plaque instability in patients with complex and fibrous carotid plaques.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine