Cannabinoid CB1 receptor mRNA was detected using reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) in endothelial cells from human aorta and hepatic artery and in the ECV304 cell line derived from human umbilical vein endothelial cells. CB1 receptor-binding sites were detected by the high-affinity antagonist radioligand [125I]AM-251. In ECV304 cells, both the highly potent synthetic cannabinoid agonist HU-210 and the endogenous ligand anandamide induce activation of mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase, and the effect of HU-210 was completely blocked, whereas the effect of anandamide was partially inhibited by SR141716A, a selective CB1 receptor antagonist. Transfection of ECV304 cells with CB1 receptor antisense, but not sense, oligonucleotides caused the same pattern of inhibition as SR141716A. This provides more definitive evidence for the involvement of CB1 receptors in MAP kinase activation and suggests that anandamide may also activate MAP kinase via an additional, CB1 receptor-independent, SR141716A-resistant mechanism. The MAP kinase activation by anandamide in ECV304 cells requires genistein-sensitive tyrosine kinases and protein kinase C (PKC), and anandamide also activates p38 kinase and c-Jun kinase. These findings indicate that CB1 receptors located in human vascular endothelium are functionally coupled to the MAP kinase cascade. Activation of protein kinase cascades by anandamide may be involved in the modulation of endothelial cell growth and proliferation.

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