Little information regarding the development of lymphangiogenesis in coronary atherosclerosis is available. We immunohistochemically investigated the correlation among intimal neovascularization (CD34 for angiogenesis and lymphatic vessel endothelial hyaluronan receptor-1 [LYVE-1] and podoplanin for lymphangiogenesis), the expression of lymphangiogenic factors (vascular endothelial growth factor [VEGF]-C and VEGF-D), and the progression of atherosclerosis using 169 sections of human coronary arteries from 23 autopsy cases. The more the atherosclerosis advanced, the more often the neointimas contained newly formed blood vessels (P < .0001). Vascular endothelial growth factor-C was expressed mostly in foamy macrophages and in some smooth muscle cells, whereas VEGF-D was abundantly expressed in both. The number of VEGF-C-expressing cells, but not that of VEGF-D-expressing cells, was increased as the lesion advanced and the number of intimal blood vessels increased (P < .01). Lymphatic vessels were rare in the atherosclerotic intima (LYVE-1 vs CD34 = 13 vs 3955 vessels) compared with the number seen in the adventitia (LYVE-1 vs CD34 = 360 vs 6921 vessels). The current study suggests that VEGF-C, but not VEGF-D, may contribute to plaque progression and be a regulator for angiogenesis rather than lymphangiogenesis in coronary atherosclerotic intimas. Imbalance of angiogenesis and lymphangiogenesis may be a factor contributing to sustained inflammatory reaction during human coronary atherogenesis.
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