Role of CB1 cannabinoid receptors on GABAergic neurons in brain aging

“Brain aging is associated with cognitive decline that is accompanied by progressive neuroinflammatory changes. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is involved in the regulation of glial activity and influences the progression of age-related learning and memory deficits.

Mice lacking the Cnr1 gene (Cnr1−/−), which encodes the cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1), showed an accelerated age-dependent deficit in spatial learning accompanied by a loss of principal neurons in the hippocampus. The age-dependent decrease in neuronal numbers in Cnr1−/− mice was not related to decreased neurogenesis or to epileptic seizures. However, enhanced neuroinflammation characterized by an increased density of astrocytes and activated microglia as well as an enhanced expression of the inflammatory cytokine IL-6 during aging was present in the hippocampus of Cnr1−/− mice. The ongoing process of pyramidal cell degeneration and neuroinflammation can exacerbate each other and both contribute to the cognitive deficits. Deletion of CB1 receptors from the forebrain GABAergic, but not from the glutamatergic neurons, led to a similar neuronal loss and increased neuroinflammation in the hippocampus as observed in animals lacking CB1 receptors in all cells.

Our results suggest that CB1 receptor activity on hippocampal GABAergic neurons protects against age-dependent cognitive decline by reducing pyramidal cell degeneration and neuroinflammation.”

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Inflammation and aging: can endocannabinoids help?

“Aging often leads to cognitive decline due to neurodegenerative process in the brain. As people live longer, a growing concern exist linked to long-term, slowly debilitating diseases that have not yet found a cure, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Recently, the role of neuroinflammation has attracted attention due to its slow onset, chronic nature and its possible role in the development of many different neurodegenerative diseases. In the future, treatment of chronic neuroinflammation may help counteract aspects of neurodegenerative disease. Our recent studies have focused upon the endocannabinoid system for its unique effects on the expression of neuroinflammation. The basis for the manipulation of the endocannabinoid system in the brain in combination with existing treatments for Alzheimer’s disease will be discussed in this review.”


Cannabinoid refers to naturally occurring or synthetic molecules mimicking the activity of plant-derived cannabinoids from Cannabis Sativa. Two types of cannabinoid receptors have been so far identified in the body, named CB1 and CB2. Discovery of cannabinoid receptors (CBr) lead to the finding of endogenous agonists for these receptors called endocannabinoids (EC). EC are derived from arachidonic acid, arachidonoylethanolamide (anandamide), and 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG), synthesized on-demand post-synaptically and released in response to the entry of calcium ions. These EC in combination with the two known CBr constitute the endocannabinoid system (ECS). In the central nervous system (CNS), CB1 is overwhelmingly represented over CB2 and particularly abundant in cortical regions, the hippocampus, cerebellum and basal ganglia while CB2 may be restricted to microglia or neurons in the brainstem  and cerebellum. Deactivation of the EC is due to a rapid enzymatic degradation in the synaptic cleft or after membrane transport. The ECS is thought to be a neuromodulator and an immunomodulator. In the CNS, the ECS can influence food intake, endocrine release, motor control, cognitive processes, emotions and perception. Cannabinoids treatment has been shown to be neuroprotective under many experimental conditions. Drugs that manipulate the ECS are currently evaluated in various diseases ranging from cancer to AIDS for their peripheral analgesic and immunosuppressive properties. Their anti-inflammatory actions may make them useful in the treatment of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and AD. Very little in vivo evidence to support the use of EC receptor agonists has been reported, although in vitro studies have found evidence for their anti-inflammatory effectiveness. Our recent work demonstrated the anti-inflammatory effect of a chronic treatment of a low dose of the CBr agonist WIN-55,212-2 (without psychoactive effects) on the consequences of chronic neuroinflammation induced by the infusion of LPS into the 4th ventricle of young rats. Moreover, that same anti-inflammatory effect was found using a non-psychoactive dose given by slow subcutaneous infusion of WIN-55,212-2 to healthy aged rats; these rats also demonstrated improved spatial memory. Our ongoing work in aged rats has shown that treatment with the CBr agonist WIN-55,212-2 increases neurogenesis in the hippocampus. Our preliminary data suggest that the neurogenic and anti-inflammatory effects in aged rats are due to the agonist/antagonist properties of WIN-55,212-2 at multiple receptors.”

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