BACKGROUND: Adhesive interactions between leukocytes and endothelial cells are characteristic of the development of atherosclerotic lesions, but the receptors involved remain to be defined. P-selectin is an adhesion receptor expressed on activated endothelial cells or platelets and was shown to be involved in fatty streak formation in LDL receptor-deficient mice on an atherogenic diet. The main purpose of this study is to examine the role of P-selectin in the spontaneous development of advanced atherosclerosis in apoE-deficient mice. METHODDS AND RESULTS: We intercrossed P-selectin-deficient mice with mice lacking apoE and compared lesion development in apoE-deficient mice with P-selectin (apoE(-/-) P(+/+)) and without P-selectin (apoE(-/-) P(-/-)) that were fed normal mouse chow. At 4 months of age, apoE(-/-) P(-/-) mice had 3. 5-fold smaller aortic sinus lesions than apoE(-/-) P(+/+) mice. These were limited to fatty streaks in the apoE(-/-) P(-/-) mice, whereas 70% of apoE(-/-) P(+/+) lesions contained smooth muscle cells. Significantly more of the aortic sinus circumference was covered by lesions in the apoE(-/-) P(+/+) animals. The P-selectin genotype affected macrophage recruitment, because twice as many mononuclear cells were present in the P-selectin-positive lesions. At 15 months, the lesions progressed to the fibrous plaque stage in both genotypes and spread throughout the aorta, but this process was delayed in apoE(-/-) P(-/-) mice. In the aortic sinus, the lesions of the apoE(-/-) P(-/-) mice were 2.6-fold smaller and less calcified. CONCLUSIONS: P-selectin appears to be a key adhesion receptor mediating leukocyte recruitment into lesions and promoting advanced atherosclerosis in apoE-deficient mice.