This review article integrates empirical findings from various scientific disciplines into a proposed psychoneuroimmunological (PNI) model of the acute coronary syndrome (ACS). Our starting point is an existing, mild, atherosclerotic plaque and a dysfunctional endothelium. The ACS is triggered by three stages. (1) Plaque instability: Pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-1, IL-6, TNF-α) and chemoattractants (MCP-1, IL-8) induce leukocyte chemoattraction to the endothelium, and together with other triggers such as the CD40L-CD40 co-stimulation system activate plaque monocytes (macrophages). The macrophages then produce matrix metalloproteinases that disintegrate extra-cellular plaque matrix, causing coronary plaque instability. Acute stress, hostility, depression and vital exhaustion (VE) have been associated with elevated pro-inflammatory cytokines and leukocyte levels and their recruitment. (2) Extra-plaque factors promoting rupture: Neuro-endocrinological factors (norepinephrine) and cytokines induce vasoconstriction and elevated blood pressure (BP), both provoking a vulnerable plaque to rupture. Hostility/anger and acute stress can lead to vasoconstriction and elevated BP via catecholamines. (3) Superimposed thrombosis at a ruptured site: Increases in coagulation factors and reductions in anticoagulation factors (e.g. protein C) induced by inflammatory factors enhance platelet aggregation, a key stage in thrombosis. Hostility, depression and VE have been positively correlated with platelet aggregation. Thrombosis can lead to severe coronary occlusion, clinically manifested as an ACS. Thus, PNI processes might, at least in part, contribute to the pathogenesis of the ACS. This chain of events may endure due to lack of neuroendocrine-to-immune negative feedback stemming from cortisol resistance. This model has implications for the use of psychological interventions in ACS patients.
- Coronary disease
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
- Physiology (medical)