Cardiovascular Research Foundation, Washington Hospital Center, Washington, DC 20010, USA.
Although definitive proof of a causal role of infection contributing to atherogenesis is lacking, multiple investigations have demonstrated that infectious agents evoke cellular and molecular changes supportive of such a role. Moreover, both Chlamydia pneumoniae and cytomegalovirus exacerbate lesion development in animal models of atherosclerosis and restenosis. The fact that multiple pathogens have been associated with atherosclerosis implies that many "atherogenic" pathogens exist, and recent data suggest that the risk of atherosclerosis conveyed by infection relates to the number of atherogenic pathogens with which an individual is infected. It also is evident that variability in host susceptibility to the atherogenic effects of pathogens exists; this variability appears to be related at least in part to whether the host can generate an immune response that successfully controls pathogen inflammatory activity and in part to the specific pattern of immune response--humoral or cellular. The latter may relate to host capacity to control pathogen activity and to a pathogen-induced autoimmune component of the atherogenic process. Additional animal and human studies are necessary to further test the validity of the infection/atherosclerosis link and to provide more insight into the mechanisms by which infection may contribute to atherosclerosis, information critical for devising strategies to reduce or eliminate any contribution to atherosclerosis caused by infection.