Conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) are biologically highly active lipid compounds that inhibit the development of atherosclerotic plaques in experimental animals. The underlying mechanisms of action, however, are only poorly understood. Since cell-culture experiments are appropriate to provide a detailed view into the mechanisms of action of a compound, the present review summarises results from in vitro studies dealing with the effects of CLA isomers and CLA mixtures on functional properties of cells of the vascular wall, such as endothelial cells, smooth muscle cells and monocyte-derived macrophages, which are amongst the major cells contributing to atherosclerotic lesion development. Based on these studies, it can be concluded that CLA exert several beneficial actions in cells of the vascular wall through the activation of nuclear PPAR. These actions of CLA, which may, at least partially, explain the inhibition of atherogenesis by dietary CLA, include modulation of vasoactive mediator release from endothelial cells, inhibition of inflammatory and fibrotic processes in activated smooth muscle cells, abrogation of inflammatory responses in activated macrophages, and reduction of cholesterol accumulation in macrophage-derived foam cells.