Universiteit Leiden

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Mast cells as immune regulators in atherosclerosis

Cardiovascular syndromes are the major cause of death in Western societies.

Kritikou, E.
12 december 2017
Thesis in Leiden Repository

Cardiovascular syndromes are the major cause of death in Western societies. The main underlying pathology is atherosclerosis, a chronic disease affecting the arteries. During atherosclerosis progression, LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, accumulates in the arterial wall, resulting in the formation of a lipid-rich atherosclerotic plaque. This event activates the immune system, which increases plaque inflammation. Mast cells are components of the immune system known for their role in allergy. However, it has been established that mast cells are also important in atherosclerosis. In this PhD dissertation, we explored the interaction of mast cells with other immune cells. We examined the interrelation between mast cells and T-lymphocytes and discovered that mast cells can function as antigen presenting cells in atherosclerosis and, enhance the development of an atherosclerotic plaque via a direct interaction. Nonetheless, mast cells can also act on the Natural Killer T-cells, resulting in a protective function against atherosclerosis. Importantly, we used a relatively novel technical approach to explore the characteristics of mast cells inside human atherosclerotic plaques. We found that mast cells are highly activated and thus possibly promote disease progression. In conclusion, mast cells possess both protective and harmful effects, acting as regulators of the immune response in atherosclerosis.