Definitions for foam cells

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U.S. National Library of Medicine

  1. Foam Cells

    Lipid-laden macrophages originating from monocytes or from smooth muscle cells.


  1. Foam cell

    Foam Cells are fat-laden immune cells of the type macrophage. They are an indication of plaque-build up, or atherosclerosis, which is commonly associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Foam cells are formed when the body sends macrophages to the location of a fatty deposit on the blood vessel walls. The macrophage surrounds the fatty material in an attempt to destroy it. The cell becomes filled with lipids. The lipids surrounded by the macrophage give it a “foamy” appearance. In chronic hyperlipidemia, lipoproteins aggregate within the intima of blood vessels and become oxidized by the action of oxygen free radicals generated either by macrophages or endothelial cells. The macrophages engulf oxidized low-density lipoproteins by endocytosis via scavenger receptors, which are distinct from LDL receptors. The oxidized LDL accumulates in the macrophages and other phagocytes, which are then known as foam cells. Foam cells form the fatty streaks of the plaques of atheroma in the tunica intima of arteries. Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol is contained by a foam cell. LDL is also known as “bad” cholesterol. It becomes a marker for atherosclerosis. Foam cells are the body’s way of trying to get rid of bad cholesterol from the blood vessels. Foam cells do not give off any explicit signs or symptoms, but they are part of the origin of atherosclerosis. Foam cells are very small in size and can only be truly detected by examining a fatty plaque under a microscope after it is removed from the body. HDL cholesterol is good cholesterol and it removes harmful bad cholesterol from where it does not belong. If foam cells are present, standard treatments for atherosclerosis are an appropriate treatment.


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