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Endothelial shear stress in the evolution of coronary atherosclerotic plaque and vascular remodelling: current understanding and remaining questions

Jolanda J. Wentzel, Yiannis S. Chatzizisis, Frank J.H. Gijsen, George D. Giannoglou, Charles L. Feldman, Peter H. Stone
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/cvr/cvs217 234-243 First published online: 29 June 2012


The heterogeneity of plaque formation, the vascular remodelling response to plaque formation, and the consequent phenotype of plaque instability attest to the extraordinarily complex pathobiology of plaque development and progression, culminating in different clinical coronary syndromes. Atherosclerotic plaques predominantly form in regions of low endothelial shear stress (ESS), whereas regions of moderate/physiological and high ESS are generally protected. Low ESS-induced compensatory expansive remodelling plays an important role in preserving lumen dimensions during plaque progression, but when the expansive remodelling becomes excessive promotes continued influx of lipids into the vessel wall, vulnerable plaque formation and potential precipitation of an acute coronary syndrome. Advanced plaques which start to encroach into the lumen experience high ESS at their most stenotic region, which appears to promote plaque destabilization. This review describes the role of ESS from early atherogenesis to early plaque formation, plaque progression to advanced high-risk stenotic or non-stenotic plaque, and plaque destabilization. The critical implication of the vascular remodelling response to plaque growth is also discussed. Current developments in technology to characterize local ESS and vascular remodelling in vivo may provide a rationale for innovative diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for coronary patients that aim to prevent clinical coronary syndromes.

  • Shear stress
  • High-risk plaque
  • Inflammation
  • Vascular remodelling
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