Adiponectin is a major adipocyte-secreted adipokine abundantly present in the circulation as three distinct oligomeric complexes. In addition to its role as an insulin sensitizer, mounting evidence suggests that adiponectin is an important player in maintaining vascular homoeostasis. Numerous epidemiological studies based on different ethnic groups have identified adiponectin deficiency (hypoadiponectinaemia) as an independent risk factor for endothelial dysfunction, hypertension, coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction and other cardiovascular complications. Conversely, elevation of circulating adiponectin concentrations by either genetic or pharmacological approaches can alleviate various vascular dysfunctions in animal models. Adiponectin exerts its vasculoprotective effects through its direct actions in the vascular system, such as increasing endothelial NO production, inhibiting endothelial cell activation and endothelium–leucocyte interaction, enhancing phagocytosis, and suppressing macrophage activation, macrophage-to-foam cell transformation and platelet aggregation. In addition, adiponectin reduces neointima formation through an oligomerization-dependent inhibition of smooth muscle proliferation. The present review highlights recent research advances in unveiling the molecular mechanisms that underpin the vascular actions of adiponectin and discusses the potential strategies of using adiponectin or its signalling pathways as therapeutic targets to combat obesity-related metabolic and vascular diseases.

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