Free hemoglobin: A dangerous signal for the immune system in patients with carotid atherosclerosis?

Brigitta Buttari, Elisabetta Profumo, Linda Petrone, Donatella Pietraforte, Alessandra Siracusano, Paola Margutti, Federica Delunardo, Elena Ortona, Maurizio Minetti, Bruno Salvati, Rachele Riganò

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Atherosclerosis is a chronic inflammatory multifactorial disease in which immune responses are key pathogenetic factors. T cell-mediated immunity contributes to the initiation and progression of atherosclerotic disease, but the nature of antigens responsible for immune cell activation is still not completely elucidated. Convincing evidence supports a determinant role of autoimmune responses to self-structures in shaping the progression of the disease. Autoimmune responses may be directed against altered self-structures, such as oxidized low-density lipoproteins (LDL). Oxidative stress, increasingly reported in patients with atherosclerosis, is the major event causing protein structural modification, thus inducing the appearance of neo/cryptic epitopes on the molecule. Intraplaque hemorrhage, a common event in advanced lesions, causes the deposition of large amounts of hemoglobin (Hb). The pro-oxidative intraplaque microenvironment may induce structural changes in extra-erythrocytic free Hb, thus generating novel/cryptic autoantigenic epitopes.We demonstrated that an oxidized Hb preparation enriched in hemichromes expands IFN-γ-secreting T lymphocytes in patients with advanced carotid atherosclerosis and enhances the phenotypical and functional maturation of human monocyte-derived dendritic cells induced by lipopolysaccharide (LPS). Overall, our findings suggest that oxidized forms of Hb could act as a dangerous signal for the immune system, thus contributing to the inflammatory process that takes place within the atherosclerotic plaque.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2007

Publication series

NameAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
ISSN (Print)00778923
ISSN (Electronic)17496632


  • Autoantigens
  • Carotid atherosclerosis
  • Dendritic cells
  • Free hemoglobin
  • Hemichromes
  • Oxidative stress
  • T lymphocytes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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