Cocaine enhances brain endothelial adhesion molecules and leukocyte migration

Xiaohu Gan, Ling Zhang, Omri Berger, Monique F. Stins, Dennis Way, Dennis D. Taub, Sulie L. Chang, Kwang Sik Kim, Steve D. House, Martin Weinand, Marlys Witte, Michael C. Graves, Milan Fiala

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

119 Scopus citations


Leukocyte infiltration of cerebral vessels in cocaine-associated vasculopathy suggests that cocaine may enhance leukocyte migration. We have investigated cocaine's effects on leukocyte adhesion in human brain microvascular endothelial cell (BMVEC) cultures and monocyte migration in an in vitro blood-brain barrier (BBB) model constructed with BMVEC and astrocytes. Cocaine (10-5 to 10-9 M) enhanced adhesion of monocytes and neutrophils to BMVEC. In the BBB model, cocaine (10-4 to 10-8 M) enhanced monocyte transmigration. Cocaine increased expression of endothelial adhesion molecules, intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1, CD54), vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1), and endothelial leukocyte adhesion molecule-1 (ELAM-1) on BMVEC. The peak effect on ICAM-1 expression was between 6 and 18 h after treatment. ICAM-1 was increased by cocaine in BMVEC, but not in human umbilical vein endothelial cells, and the enhancement was greater in a coculture of BMVEC with monocytes. ICAM-1 expression was enhanced by a transcriptional mechanism. Polymyxin B inhibited up-regulation of adhesion molecules by LPS but not by cocaine. In LPS-activated BMVEC/monocyte coculture, cocaine increased secretion of tumor necrosis factor-α and interleukin-6. Taken together, these findings indicate that cocaine enhances leukocyte migration across the cerebral vessel wall, in particular under inflammatory conditions, but the effects are variable in different individuals. Cocaine's effects are exerted through a cascade of augmented expression of inflammatory cytokines and endothelial adhesion molecules. These could underlie the cerebrovascular complications of cocaine abuse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)68-76
Number of pages9
JournalClinical Immunology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1999


  • Blood-brain barrier
  • Cocaine
  • Endothelial cells
  • ICAM-1
  • Monocytes
  • Vasculopathy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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