Published: January 2018
Abstract: Endocannabinoids are important regulators of neurotransmission and, acting on activated microglia, they are postulated as neuroprotective agents. Endocannabinoid action is mediated by CB1 and CB2 receptors, which may form heteromeric complexes (CB1-CB2Hets) with unknown function in microglia. We aimed at establishing the expression and signaling properties of cannabinoid receptors in resting and LPS/IFN-γ-activated microglia. In activated microglia mRNA transcripts increased (2 fold for CB1 and circa 20 fold for CB2), whereas receptor levels were similar for CB1 and markedly upregulated for CB2; CB1-CB2Hets were also upregulated. Unlike in resting cells, CB2 receptors became robustly coupled to Gi in activated cells, in which CB1-CB2Hets mediated a potentiation effect. Hence, resting cells were refractory while activated cells were highly responsive to cannabinoids.
Interestingly, similar results were obtained in cultures treated with ß-amyloid (Aß1-42). Microglial activation markers were detected in the striatum of a Parkinson’s disease (PD) model and, remarkably, in primary microglia cultures from the hippocampus of mutant β-amyloid precursor protein (APPSw,Ind) mice, a transgenic Alzheimer’s disease (AD) model. Also of note was the similar cannabinoid receptor signaling found in primary cultures of microglia from APPSw,Ind and in cells from control animals activated using LPS plus IFN-γ. Expression of CB1-CB2Hets was increased in the striatum from rats rendered dyskinetic by chronic levodopa treatment.
In summary, our results showed sensitivity of activated microglial cells to cannabinoids, increased CB1-CB2Het expression in activated microglia and in microglia from the hippocampus of an AD model, and a correlation between levodopa-induced dyskinesia and striatal microglial activation in a PD model. Cannabinoid receptors and the CB1-CB2 heteroreceptor complex in activated microglia have potential as targets in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.