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Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)


Biomedical Sciences

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Douglas P. Thewke

Committee Members

Sharon Campbell, Robert V. Schoborg, Krishna Singh, Antonio E. Rusinol


Atherosclerosis is a macrophage-dominated nonresolving inflammatory disease of the arterial wall. Macrophage processes, including apoptosis, influence lesion development in atherosclerosis. Cannabinoids, compounds structurally related to Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana, exert their effects through cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. Cannabinoid treatment, THC or Win55,212-2, reduces atherosclerosis in ApoE-null mice by a mechanism thought to involve CB2. However, the exact role of CB2 in atherosclerosis remains unclear. We found that CB2-null macrophages are resistant to oxysterol/oxLDL-induced apoptosis leading us to hypothesize that CB2 may modulate macrophage apoptosis in atherosclerosis. To determine the functions of CB2 in atherosclerosis, we fed low density lipoprotein receptor-null (Ldlr-/-) and Ldlr-/- mice genetically deficient in CB2, an atherogenic diet for 8 and 12 weeks. CB2 deficiency did not significantly affect aortic root lesion area after 8 or 12 weeks; however, after 12 weeks, CB2-deficient lesions displayed increased lesional macrophage and smooth muscle cell (SMC) content and a ~2-fold reduction in lesional apoptosis. CB2-deficienct lesions also displayed reduced collagen content and elevated elastin fiber fragmentation that was associated with elevated levels of the extracellular matrix degrading enzyme, matrix metalloproteinase 9 (MMP9). These results demonstrate that although CB2 signaling does not affect atherosclerotic lesion size it does modulate lesional apoptosis, cellularity and ECM composition. Ldlr-/- and CB2-deficient Ldlr-/- mice were also subjected to daily treatments with Win55,212-2, a synthetic cannabinoid, over the last 2 weeks of an 8 week atherogenic diet to identify CB2-dependent and CB2-independent effects of cannabinoid receptor stimulation on atherosclerosis. Win55,212-2 did not affect hypercholesterolemia, aortic root lesion area, lesional macrophage infiltration, or ECM composition in either genotype but did significantly reduce total plasma triglyceride levels and lesional SMC content, independent of CB2. Surprisingly, lesional apoptosis was dose-dependently repressed by Win55,212-2 in Ldlr-/- mice by a CB2-dependent mechanism. All together, these results support the suggestion that CB2 may be a target for novel therapies aimed at modulating lesional apoptosis and cellularity to increase lesion stability and reduce the vulnerability to rupture.

Document Type

Dissertation - restricted


Copyright by the authors.