Thromb Haemost 2011; 106(05): 858-867
DOI: 10.1160/TH11-06-0392
Theme Issue Article
Schattauer GmbH

Pathogens and atherosclerosis: Update on the potential contribution of multiple infectious organisms to the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis

Michael E. Rosenfeld
1   Departments of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences and Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA
,
Lee Ann Campbell
1   Departments of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences and Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA
› Author Affiliations
Further Information

Publication History

Received: 09 June 2011

Accepted after major revision: 03 October 2011

Publication Date:
23 November 2017 (online)

Summary

It is currently unclear what causes the chronic inflammation within atherosclerotic plaques. One emerging paradigm suggests that infection with bacteria and/or viruses can contribute to the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis either via direct infection of vascular cells or via the indirect effects of cytokines or acute phase proteins induced by infection at non-vascular sites. This paradigm has been supported by multiple epidemiological studies that have established positive associations between the risk of cardiovascular disease morbidity and mortality and markers of infection. It has also been supported by experimental studies showing an acceleration of the development of atherosclerosis following infection of hyperlipidaemic animal models. There are now a large number of different infectious agents that have been linked with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. These include: Chlamydia pneumoniae, Porphyromonas gingivalis, Helicobacter pylori, influenza A virus, hepatitis C virus, cytomegalovirus, and human immunodeficiency virus. However, there are significant differences in the strength of the data supporting their association with cardiovascular disease pathogenesis. In some cases, the infectious agents are found within the plaques and viable organisms can be isolated suggesting a direct effect. In other cases, the association is entirely based on biomarkers. In the following review, we evaluate the strength of the data for individual or groups of pathogens with regard to atherosclerosis pathogenesis and their potential contribution by direct or indirect mechanisms and discuss whether the established associations are supportive of the infectious disease paradigm. We also discuss the failure of antibiotic trials and the question of persistent infection.