Trypanosoma cruzi invades heart cells via a calcium-dependent, G protein-mediated mechanism, leading to severe cardiac inflammation considered by some to be autoimmune in nature. Cannabinoids inhibit calcium flux and G protein signalling; as potent immunosuppressive agents, they are effective in the treatment of autoimmune disease but contraindicated for the treatment of infections. We compared the action of the synthetic cannabinoid R(+)WIN55,212 and its inactive isomer S(-)WIN55,212 on cardiac myoblast invasion: R(+)WIN55,212 inhibited invasion by over 85%. We then tested for efficacy in modulating pathogenesis in mice by assaying parasite burden in heart and blood, cellular and humoral immunity to parasite and self antigens, and mortality. R(+)WIN55,212 significantly reduced cardiac inflammation but led to considerably increased parasitaemia. Cardiac parasitosis and mortality were not significantly different in treatment and control groups. We conclude that cannabinoids can block cardiac cell puncture repair mechanisms, thereby inhibiting trypanosome invasion as predicted by the mode of drug action, but, also inhibit immune cell effector functions, offsetting the benefit of inhibition parasite cell invasion. Refined use of cannabinoids may prove therapeutic in the future, but our results raise concern about the effect of cannabis use on those chronically infected by T. cruzi and on heart cell homeostasis generally.
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