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Analysis of arterial intimal hyperplasia: review and hypothesis

Vladimir M Subbotin

Author Affiliations

Mirus Bio Corporation, 505 S Rosa Rd, Madison, Wisconsin, 53719, USA

Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling 2007, 4:41  doi:10.1186/1742-4682-4-41

Published: 31 October 2007



Despite a prodigious investment of funds, we cannot treat or prevent arteriosclerosis and restenosis, particularly its major pathology, arterial intimal hyperplasia. A cornerstone question lies behind all approaches to the disease: what causes the pathology?


I argue that the question itself is misplaced because it implies that intimal hyperplasia is a novel pathological phenomenon caused by new mechanisms. A simple inquiry into arterial morphology shows the opposite is true. The normal multi-layer cellular organization of the tunica intima is identical to that of diseased hyperplasia; it is the standard arterial system design in all placentals at least as large as rabbits, including humans. Formed initially as one-layer endothelium lining, this phenotype can either be maintained or differentiate into a normal multi-layer cellular lining, so striking in its resemblance to diseased hyperplasia that we have to name it "benign intimal hyperplasia". However, normal or "benign" intimal hyperplasia, although microscopically identical to pathology, is a controllable phenotype that rarely compromises blood supply. It is remarkable that each human heart has coronary arteries in which a single-layer endothelium differentiates early in life to form a multi-layer intimal hyperplasia and then continues to self-renew in a controlled manner throughout life, relatively rarely compromising the blood supply to the heart, causing complications requiring intervention only in a small fraction of the population, while all humans are carriers of benign hyperplasia. Unfortunately, this fundamental fact has not been widely appreciated in arteriosclerosis research and medical education, which continue to operate on the assumption that the normal arterial intima is always an "ideal" single-layer endothelium. As a result, the disease is perceived and studied as a new pathological event caused by new mechanisms. The discovery that normal coronary arteries are morphologically indistinguishable from deadly coronary arteriosclerosis continues to elicit surprise.


Two questions should inform the priorities of our research: (1) what controls switch the single cell-layer intimal phenotype into normal hyperplasia? (2) how is normal (benign) hyperplasia maintained? We would be hard-pressed to gain practical insights without scrutinizing our premises.