Atherosclerosis has been a target of much clinical and molecular research. As a result of this extensive research, it is amply clear that atherogenesis is a multifactorial process involving an interplay of metabolic, immune and inflammatory mechanisms. Antiatherosclerotic strategies are today aiming for a multipronged approach targeting each arm of this multifactorial process. The newer agents under development can be divided into three broad categories: anti-inflammatory agents, modulators of intermediary metabolism and antiatherosclerosis vaccines. Potential targets for anti-inflammatory agents include inhibition of conversion of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) to oxidised LDL, blocking or downregulation of cell adhesion molecules, chemokine modulation and macrophage receptor blockade. Beyond inhibition of plaque formation, efforts are also ongoing to develop agents which stabilise the plaque by increasing its fibrous content and inhibiting its disruption. So far as research in the sphere of intermediary metabolism is concerned, the focus is now primarily on raising high-density lipoprotein and promoting reverse cholesterol transport; potential targets include cholesteryl ester transfer protein, liver X-receptor, lecithin cholesterol acyltransferase and high-density lipoprotein mimetics. Acyl-coenzymeA: cholesterol acyltransferase is another enzyme whose selective and differential inhibition is under active investigation. The concept of immunisation against a non-communicable disease such as atherosclerosis is still in its nascent stages. However, with increasing evidence to suggest the role of antigen-specific T-cell-mediated immunity in atherogenesis, this approach is potentially promising. Possible antigens under evaluation include oxidised LDL and its subparticles, heat-shock proteins and cholesteryl ester transfer protein. With cardiovascular disease being the single leading cause of death worldwide, the development of a safe and successful antiatherosclerosis strategy (possibly employing a combination of agents acting at various levels) will indeed be a major 21st-century achievement.
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Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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