Atherosclerosis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the vasculature that is initiated by cholesterol deposition into the arterial wall, which triggers the infiltration of immune and inflammatory cells, including monocytes and macrophages. As atherosclerotic plaques progress, localized hypoxia promotes compensatory angiogenesis from the vasa vasorum. Immature neovessels are prone to leakage, thus destabilizing the plaque and leading to intraplaque hemorrhage. Macrophages with different phenotypes, ranging from classical inflammatory subtypes to alternatively activated antiinflammatory macrophages, have been identified in atherosclerotic lesions. Antiinflammatory hemoglobin-scavenging CD163+ macrophages are present in neovessel- and hemorrhage-rich areas; however, the role of these macrophages in atherogenesis has been unclear. In this issue of the JCI, Guo, Akahori, and colleagues show that CD163+ macrophages promote angiogenesis, vessel permeability, and leucocyte infiltration in human and mouse atherosclerotic lesions through a mechanism involving hemoglobin:haptoglobin/CD163/HIF1α-mediated VEGF induction. This study thus identifies proatherogenic properties of CD163+ macrophages, which previously were thought to be beneficial.
Benoit Pourcet, Bart Staels