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Highly Accessed Review

Vascular involvement in rheumatic diseases: 'vascular rheumatology'

Zoltán Szekanecz1* and Alisa E Koch23

Author Affiliations

1 University of Debrecen Medical Center, Institute of Medicine, Department of Rheumatology, 22 Móricz street, Debrecen, H-4032, Hungary

2 Veterans' Administration Ann Arbor Healthcare System, 2215 Fuller Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48105, USA

3 University of Michigan Health System, Division of Rheumatology, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School, 109 Zina Pitcher Place, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2200, USA

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2008, 10:224  doi:10.1186/ar2515

Published: 10 October 2008

Abstract

The vasculature plays a crucial role in inflammation, angiogenesis, and atherosclerosis associated with the pathogenesis of inflammatory rheumatic diseases, hence the term 'vascular rheumatology'. The endothelium lining the blood vessels becomes activated during the inflammatory process, resulting in the production of several mediators, the expression of endothelial adhesion molecules, and increased vascular permeability (leakage). All of this enables the extravasation of inflammatory cells into the interstitial matrix. The endothelial adhesion and transendothelial migration of leukocytes is a well-regulated sequence of events that involves many adhesion molecules and chemokines. Primarily selectins, integrins, and members of the immunoglobulin family of adhesion receptors are involved in leukocyte 'tethering', 'rolling', activation, and transmigration. There is a perpetuation of angiogenesis, the formation of new capillaries from pre-existing vessels, as well as that of vasculogenesis, the generation of new blood vessels in arthritis and connective tissue diseases. Several soluble and cell-bound angiogenic mediators produced mainly by monocytes/macrophages and endothelial cells stimulate neovascularization. On the other hand, endogenous angiogenesis inhibitors and exogenously administered angiostatic compounds may downregulate the process of capillary formation. Rheumatoid arthritis as well as systemic lupus erythematosus, scleroderma, the antiphospholipid syndrome, and systemic vasculitides have been associated with accelerated atherosclerosis and high cardiovascular risk leading to increased mortality. Apart from traditional risk factors such as smoking, obesity, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and diabetes, inflammatory risk factors, including C-reactive protein, homocysteine, folate deficiency, lipoprotein (a), anti-phospholipid antibodies, antibodies to oxidized low-density lipoprotein, and heat shock proteins, are all involved in atherosclerosis underlying inflammatory rheumatic diseases. Targeting of adhesion molecules, chemokines, and angiogenesis by administering nonspecific immunosuppressive drugs as well as monoclonal antibodies or small molecular compounds inhibiting the action of a single mediator may control inflammation and prevent tissue destruction. Vasoprotective agents may help to prevent premature atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.