Stroke has enormous clinical, social, and economic implications, and demands a significant effort from both basic and clinical science in the search for successful therapies. Atherosclerosis, the pathologic process underlying most coronary artery disease and the majority of ischemic stroke in humans, is an inflammatory process. Complex interactions occur between the classic risk factors for atherosclerosis and its clinical consequences. These interactions appear to involve inflammatory mechanisms both in the periphery and in the CNS. Central nervous system inflammation is important in the pathophysiologic processes occurring after the onset of cerebral ischemia in ischemic stroke, subarachnoid hemorrhage, and head injury. In addition, inflammation in the CNS or in the periphery may be a risk factor for the initial development of cerebral ischemia. Peripheral infection and inflammatory processes are likely to be important in this respect. Thus, it appears that inflammation may be important both before, in predisposing to a stroke, and afterwards, where it is important in the mechanisms of cerebral injury and repair. Inflammation is mediated by both molecular components, including cytokines, and cellular components, such as leukocytes and microglia, many of which possess pro- and/or antiinflammatory properties, with harmful or beneficial effects. Classic acute-phase reactants and body temperature are also modified in stroke, and may be useful in the prediction of events, outcome, and as therapeutic targets. New imaging techniques are important clinically because they facilitate dynamic evaluation of tissue damage in relation to outcome. Inflammatory conditions such as giant cell arteritis and systemic lupus erythematosus predispose to stroke, as do a range of acute and chronic infections, principally respiratory. Diverse mechanisms have been proposed to account for inflammation and infection-associated stroke, ranging from classic risk factors to disturbances of the immune and coagulation systems. Considerable opportunities therefore exist for the development of novel therapies. It seems likely that drugs currently used in the treatment of stroke, such as aspirin, statins, and modulators of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, act at least partly via antiinflammatory mechanisms. Newer approaches have included antimicrobial and antileukocyte strategies. One of the most promising avenues may be the use of cytokine antagonism, for example, interleukin-1 receptor antagonist.
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