Cocaine enhances monocyte migration across the blood-brain barrier. Cocaine's connection to aids dementia and vasculitis?

M. Fiala, X. H. Gan, L. Zhang, S. D. House, T. Newton, M. C. Graves, P. Shapshak, M. Stins, K. S. Kim, M. Witte, S. L. Chang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


Cocaine has wide-ranging effects on the immune and neuroendocrine systems (Fiala et al., 1996) resembling an inflammatory 'stress' response with upregulation of pro-inflammatory cytokines and stimulation of the HPA axis (Gan et al., 1997). Cocaine abuse has also been associated with vascular pathology, including vasculitis, vasospasm and hemorrhage. These effects suggest that cocaine could perturb the function of endothelial cells, including the blood-brain barrier, and influence the progression to AIDS in HIV-infected individuals (Shapshak et al., 1997; Goodkin et al., 1997). In order to understand clinical consequences of cocaine abuse, it is important to gain insight into molecular and cellular basis of cocaine's effects on immune and endothelial cells. Cocaine's in vitro effects on (a) permeability, (b) immune cell migration, (c) adhesion molecules, and (d) cytokine expression were investigated in a blood-brain barrier model constructed with brain microvascular endothelial cells and fetal astrocytes with the following results: (a) cocaine and tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) increased the model's permeability to inulin similarly in a dose-responsive fashion; (b) cocaine (10-4 to 10-8 M) enhanced monocyte migration across the barrier with the maximum increase, approximately 100%, by 10-5 M cocaine; (c) cocaine treatment also increased the expression of endothelial adhesion molecules, intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1), vascular cell adhesion molecules-1 (VCAM-1) and platelet/endothelial cell adhesion molecule-1 (PECAM-1); (d) although the cocaine in vitro effects on cytokine production by mononuclear cells have been difficult to assess due to a heterogeneity in the degree of responsiveness between individuals, the data suggest that mononuclear cells from cocaine addicts are sensitized to in vitro cocaine challenge with hypersecretion of inflammatory cytokines. Cocaine's in vivo manifestations are compatible with these in vitro effects: (A) chronic cocaine treatment of rats significantly increased rolling white blood cell flux, leukocyte-endothelium adhesion, and ICAM-1 expression in the mesentery (House et al., 1996); (B) cocaine injection to cocaine-dependent subjects tipped the balance of cytokine secretion by mononuclear cells to Th1-type (Gan et al., 1997), and (C) cocaine injection stimulated the hypothalamic- pituitary axis (HPA) to increase both anti- and pro-inflammatory hormonal secretion. Collectively, these results suggest that the immune effects of cocaine on endothelial, immune and neuroendocrine cells impair the function of the blood-brain barrier, increase cell emigration from the blood vessels, in particular into the brain, and may cause vasculitis. These effects could also increase importation of HIV-1 into the brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)199-205
Number of pages7
JournalAdvances in experimental medicine and biology
StatePublished - 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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