a1 Postgraduate Medical School, University of Surrey, Daphne Jackson Rd, Guildford GU2 7WG, Surrey, UK
Morphological and immunocytochemical studies have elucidated the complex processes involved in atherogenesis. The notion of plaque instability has emerged from this work and underscored the importance of inflammation in determining clinical complications associated with atherosclerosis, such as acute coronary syndrome. Cells of the immune system have been detected within atherosclerotic lesions and auto-antibodies directed against modified LDL and heat-shock proteins have been identified in the blood of individuals with atherosclerosis. The use of risk ‘engines’, e.g. the Framingham coronary risk score, has facilitated the identification of individuals at high risk, but the constituent classical risk factors used in these algorithms do not adequately differentiate individuals at moderate risk. As age is a major component of the equations used in these algorithms they are not particularly useful in young adults, and their applicability to non-Caucasian populations has been questioned. Biomarkers of early disease and plaque instability have therefore both been sought. Although some of these markers have been shown individually to be associated with a significant hazard ratio, no substantial improvement in discrimination has been demonstrated when they are incorporated into a risk ‘engine’. The latter has generally been assessed by receiver operator characteristic curve analysis, although this approach has been criticised. Other modalities, including imaging and functional assessments of vascular function, are now being developed for clinical use.