The renin-angiotensin system (RAS) is a key regulator of vascular tone and blood pressure. In addition, angiotensin II also has a number of cellular effects that may contribute to disease pathogenesis. Using Agtr1a(-/-) mice, which lack AT(1A) receptors for angiotensin II, we have identified a novel function of the RAS to modulate the immune system. We find that angiotensin II, acting through type 1 (AT1) receptors on immune cells, triggers the proliferation of splenic lymphocytes. These actions contribute to the vigor of cellular alloimmune responses. Within lymphoid organs, sufficient components of the RAS are present to activate AT1 receptors during an immune response, promoting cell growth. These actions require activation of calcineurin phosphatase. In an in vivo model of cardiac transplantation, the absence of AT1 signaling accentuates the immunosuppressive effects of the calcineurin inhibitor cyclosporine. We conclude that inhibition of AT1 receptor signaling should be useful as an anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive therapy. Furthermore, the actions of the RAS to promote lymphocyte activation may contribute to inflammation that characterizes a number of diseases of the heart and the vascular system.
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