Salvianolic acids are the most abundant water-soluble compounds extracted from Radix Salvia miltiorrhiza (Danshen). In China, Danshen has been wildly used to treat cardiovascular diseases for hundreds of years. Salvianolic acids, especially salvianolic acid A (Sal A) and salvianolic acid B (Sal B), have been found to have potent anti-oxidative capabilities due to their polyphenolic structure. Recently, intracellular signaling pathways regulated by salvianolic acids in vascular endothelial cells, aortic smooth muscle cells, as well as cardiomyocytes, have been investigated both in vitro and in vivo upon various cardiovascular insults. It is discovered that the cardiovascular protection of salvianolic acids is not only because salvianolic acids act as reactive oxygen species scavengers, but also due to the reduction of leukocyte-endothelial adherence, inhibition of inflammation and metalloproteinases expression from aortic smooth muscle cells, and indirect regulation of immune function. Competitive binding of salvianolic acids to target proteins to interrupt protein-protein interactions has also been found to be a mechanism of cardiovascular protection by salvianolic acids. In this article, we review a variety of studies focusing on the above mentioned mechanisms. Besides, the target proteins of salvianolic acids are also described. These results of recent advances have shed new light to the development of novel therapeutic strategies for salvianolic acids to treat cardiovascular diseases.
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