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Pathogenesis of giant cell (temporal) arteritis

Gene G Hunder, MD
Section Editor
Eric L Matteson, MD, MPH
Deputy Editor
Monica Ramirez Curtis, MD, MPH


Giant cell (temporal) arteritis is a chronic vasculitis of large- and medium-sized vessels, which occurs among individuals over 50 years of age [1]. Although it may be generalized, vessel inflammation most prominently involves the cranial branches of the arteries originating from the aortic arch [2,3].

This topic will review the pathogenesis and pathology of giant cell arteritis (GCA). The clinical manifestations and diagnosis of this disorder are discussed separately. (See "Clinical manifestations of giant cell (temporal) arteritis".)


The etiology and pathogenesis of giant cell arteritis (GCA) are unknown. However, the following observations suggest that increasing age, a unique genetic and ethnic background, and infection may have causative roles [4,5].

GCA occurs with increased frequency among individuals older than 50 years of age. Specific age-related changes in the innate and adaptive immune systems and age-related alterations of large and medium blood vessels appear important in the development of the vasculitis [6].

Clustering of the illness may occur within families [7].


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Mar 6, 2015.
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