OBJECTIVE: Adhesion molecules have been implicated in the development and progression of atherosclerosis. Cannabinoids have been reported to modulate the migration and adhesion molecules expression of various cell types. Here we examined the effects of WIN55212-2, a cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1-R)/cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2-R) agonist on the development of atherosclerotic lesions in apolipoprotein E-deficient (ApoE-/-) mice, which are vulnerable because of their high plasma cholesterol and triacylglycerol levels, focusing on the expression of endothelial adhesion molecules. METHODS AND RESULTS: In the aorta of ApoE-/- mice, WIN55212-2 significantly reduced aortic root plaque area. The mechanism for this seemed to be reduced infiltration of macrophages into the atherosclerotic plaque which was also associated with reduced expression of vascular cellular adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1), intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1), and P-selectin in the aorta. In vitro studies revealed reduced cell adhesion of a monocytic cell line (U937) to human umbilical vein endothelial cells after incubation with WIN55212-2. The reduction in macrophage adhesion also correlated with significant reductions in the expression of VCAM-1, ICAM-1, and P-selectin, indicating that reduced infiltration of macrophages in atherosclerotic plaques may occur as a result of the direct effect of WIN55212-2 on adhesion molecules in macrophages and endothelial cells. CONCLUSION: In conclusion, WIN55212-2 seems to have direct anti-atherosclerotic effects in an animal model of atherosclerosis. These effects were at least partly due to effects on the expression of VCAM-1, ICAM-1, and P-selectin, which led to reduced macrophage adhesion and infiltration. Furthermore, the protective effects completely blocked by the highly selective CB2 receptor antagonist AM630 suggest that these beneficial effects of WIN55212-2 may be mediated through the CB2 receptor.
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