Human aortic fibrolipid lesions. Progenitor lesions for fibrous plaques, exhibiting early formation of the cholesterol-rich core.
The early development of the lipid-rich core and other features of atherosclerotic fibrous plaques has been elucidated by examining discrete, small regions of raised intima in human aorta, which often bear a resemblance to both fatty streaks and fibrous plaques. Approximately one-fourth of small raised lesions (less than 16 sq mm of surface area) contained little or no stainable lipid, while three-fourths had a characteristic appearance, which included a superficial layer of foam cells, a core of noncrystalline and/or crystalline lipid, and a developed or developing collagenous cap. Total intimal volumes of the lipid-containing lesions, termed "fibrolipid lesions," ranged from 3 to 43 microliters, with the majority less than 16 microliters. Core lipid in the smallest lesions was located in the musculoelastic layer of the intima. In larger lesions the core extended luminally into the elastic hyperplastic layer, and cholesterol crystals were found more frequently. Total cholesterol concentration in fibrolipid lesions was similar to that in fatty streaks; however, the ratio of unesterified to total cholesterol was relatively high, similar to that found in fibrous plaques. It is concluded that 1) the formation of a lipid-rich core and cholesterol crystallization are early events in the development of many raised lesions; 2) the consistent association between the superficial layer of foam cells and the deep-lying lipid-rich core raises the possibility of an influence, possibly indirect, of foam-cell lipid metabolism on core formation; and 3) the fibrolipid lesion may represent one stage in a potential transitional morphologic sequence between fatty streak and fibrous plaque.
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