Mononuclear phagocytes (MPs) relevant to atherosclerosis include monocytes, macrophages, and dendritic cells. A decade ago, studies on macrophage behavior in atherosclerotic lesions were often limited to quantification of total macrophage area in cross-sections of plaques. Although technological advances are still needed to examine plaque MP populations in an increasingly dynamic and informative manner, innovative methods to interrogate the biology of MPs in atherosclerotic plaques developed in the past few years point to several mechanisms that regulate the accumulation and function of MPs within plaques. Here, I review the evolution of atherosclerotic plaques with respect to changes in the MP compartment from the initiation of plaque to its progression and regression, discussing the roles that recruitment, proliferation, and retention of MPs play at these different disease stages. Additional work in the future will be needed to better distinguish macrophages and dendritic cells in plaque and to address some basic unknowns in the field, including just how cholesterol drives accumulation of macrophages in lesions to build plaques in the first place and how macrophages as major effectors of innate immunity work together with components of the adaptive immune response to drive atherosclerosis. Answers to these questions are sought with the goal in mind of reversing disease where it exists and preventing its development where it does not.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1757-1771
Number of pages15
JournalCirculation research
Issue number11
StatePublished - May 23 2014


  • atherosclerosis
  • macrophages
  • monocytes


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