Intramyocardial Arterial Cushions of Coronary Vessels in Animals and Humans: Morphology, Occurrence and Relation to Heart Disease

Nancy L. Whelan, Ramiah Subramanian, Jie Jin, Ingegerd M. Keith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The existence of coronary endoarterial cushions (CEC) in the human heart as nonpathological, functional entities has been debated, and CEC have been sparsely reported in animals. Arterial cushions are localized thickenings that protrude into the lumen of specific arteries. We have identified CEC in the rhesus monkey, dog, sheep, goat, pig, rabbit and rat, and in the human heart. Two distinct types are described: the ovoid CEC arranged singly, in pairs, or in groups of three to four, and the less common polypoid CEC seen primarily in humans. The highest incidence of CEC in rabbits and humans was in the left ventricle in arteries 150–488 µm in diameter. Light and electron microscopy demonstrated intimal location with smooth muscle cells surrounded by ground substance, collagen and elastin fibers in a highly organized pattern. Nerve fibers identified by their immunoreactivity with antiserum to the vasodilatory calcitonin-gene-related peptide contacted the CEC along the tunica media and were occasionally seen within CEC. Arrangement and histological composition of CEC suggest a role in the regulation of local blood flow and myocardial perfusion. In human hearts, the CEC density index correlated highly with the degree of heart disease. In subjects with high heart disease rating, increased connective tissue, lipid-like infiltration and calcification was seen within CEC, and foam cells were present in CEC of obese rabbits. This suggests that CEC in coronary arteries could be predisposed sites of atherosclerosis, and that injured CEC can cause coronary artery spasm and ischemia. We conclude that CEC occur in animals and humans as innervated intimal smooth muscle cushions that might have a role in myocardial perfusion and heart disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-224
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Vascular Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • Coronary arteries
  • Heart disease
  • Intimal cushions
  • Smooth muscle
  • Ultrastructure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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