Immune cells and vasa vasorum in the tunica media of atherosclerotic coronary arteries


  • Ruda Zorc-Pleskovič Institute of Histology and Embryology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia
  • Aleš Pleskovič Department of Internal Medicine, University Medical Centre of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia
  • Olga Vraspir-Porenta Institute of Histology and Embryology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia International Center for Cardiovascular Diseases MC Medicor d.d., Izola, Slovenia
  • Metka Zorc Institute of Histology and Embryology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia International Center for Cardiovascular Diseases MC Medicor d.d., Izola, Slovenia
  • Aleksandra Milutinović Institute of Histology and Embryology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia



Atherosclerosis, coronary arteries, tunica media, T cells, B cells, macrophages, immune privilege, vasa vasorum


In coronary artery disease (CAD), the disruption of the tunica media immune privilege manifests as increased leukocyte infiltration and the formation of vasa vasorum. We aimed to characterize the immune privilege status of the tunica media in human coronary arteries (CAs) with atherosclerotic plaques, by comparing the abundance and composition of immune-cell infiltrates within the individual arterial-wall layers, and by evaluating vasa vasorum neovascularization of the tunica media. The tissue samples were obtained from 36 symptomatic patients with diffuse CAD (aged 60–72 years) who underwent coronary endarterectomy. T and B cells, macrophages and endothelial cells in the CAs were detected by immunohistochemistry. Morphological analysis of CAs showed significant atherosclerotic changes in all specimens. In the media, we observed damage and loss of smooth muscle cells, destruction of the extracellular matrix architecture, and fibrosis. There were 43.3% of immune cells in the intima, 50% in the adventitia, and 6.7% in the media. In the media, 51.1% of the immune cells were T cells (p ˂ 0.001 compared to B cells and macrophages; ANOVA, Scheffe post hoc analysis), 23.5% were B cells, and 25.4% were macrophages. The number of vasa vasorum in the media was 1 in 38.9% of CAs, 2–3 in 36.1%, and ≥4 in 25% of CAs. Our results indicate that, in atherosclerotic CAs, the immune privilege of the media is disrupted by the infiltration of T and B cells, macrophages, and the presence of vasa vasorum.



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Author Biography

  • Aleš Pleskovič, Department of Internal Medicine, University Medical Centre of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia
    Department of Internal Medicine


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Immune cells and vasa vasorum in the tunica media of atherosclerotic coronary arteries


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Immune cells and vasa vasorum in the tunica media of atherosclerotic coronary arteries. Biomol Biomed [Internet]. 2018 Aug. 1 [cited 2024 Jul. 15];18(3):240-5. Available from: