Elucidation of structure-function relationship of THCA and CBDA synthase from Cannabis sativa L.

Journal of Biotechnology

“Cannabinoids are secondary natural products from the plant Cannabis sativa L.

Therapeutic indications of cannabinoids currently comprise a significant area of medicinal research.

We have expressed the Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid synthase (THCAS) and cannabidiolic acid synthase (CBDAS) recombinantly in Komagataella phaffii and could detect eight different products with a cannabinoid scaffold after conversion of the precursor cannabigerolic acid (CBGA).

Besides five products remaining to be identified, both enzymes were forming three major cannabinoids of C. sativa – Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) and cannabichromenic acid (CBCA).

These studies lay the groundwork for further research as well as biotechnological cannabinoid production.”

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Anti-Inflammatory Activity in Colon Models Is Derived from Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid That Interacts with Additional Compounds in Cannabis Extracts.

“Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) include Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. Cannabis sativa preparations have beneficial effects for IBD patients. However, C. sativa extracts contain hundreds of compounds. Although there is much knowledge of the activity of different cannabinoids and their receptor agonists or antagonists, the cytotoxic and anti-inflammatory activity of whole C. sativa extracts has never been characterized in detail with in vitro and ex vivo colon models.

Material and Methods: The anti-inflammatory activity of C. sativa extracts was studied on three lines of epithelial cells and on colon tissue. C. sativa flowers were extracted with ethanol, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay was used to determine the level of interleukin-8 in colon cells and tissue biopsies, chemical analysis was performed using high-performance liquid chromatography, mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance and gene expression was determined by quantitative real-time PCR.

Results: The anti-inflammatory activity of Cannabis extracts derives from D9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) present in fraction 7 (F7) of the extract. However, all fractions of C. sativa at a certain combination of concentrations have a significant increased cytotoxic activity. GPR55 receptor antagonist significantly reduces the anti-inflammatory activity of F7, whereas cannabinoid type 2 receptor antagonist significantly increases HCT116 cell proliferation. Also, cannabidiol (CBD) shows dose dependent cytotoxic activity, whereas anti-inflammatory activity was found only for the low concentration of CBD, and in a bell-shaped rather than dose-dependent manner. Activity of the extract and active fraction was verified on colon tissues taken from IBD patients, and was shown to suppress cyclooxygenase-2 (COX2) and metalloproteinase-9 (MMP9) gene expression in both cell culture and colon tissue.

Conclusions: It is suggested that the anti-inflammatory activity of Cannabis extracts on colon epithelial cells derives from a fraction of the extract that contains THCA, and is mediated, at least partially, via GPR55 receptor. The cytotoxic activity of the C. sativa extract was increased by combining all fractions at a certain combination of concentrations and was partially affected by CB2 receptor antagonist that increased cell proliferation. It is suggested that in a nonpsychoactive treatment for IBD, THCA should be used rather than CBD.”

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The current status of artisanal cannabis for the treatment of epilepsy in the United States.

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“The widespread patient use of artisanal cannabis preparations has preceded quality validation of cannabis use for epilepsy. Neurologists and cannabinoid specialists are increasingly in a position to monitor and guide the use of herbal cannabis in epilepsy patients. We report the retrospective data on efficacy and adverse effects of artisanal cannabis in Patients with medically refractory epilepsy with mixed etiologies in Washington State, California, and Maine. Clinical considerations, including potential risks and benefits, challenges related to artisanal preparations, and cannabinoid dosing, are discussed.


Of 272 combined patients from Washington State and California, 37 (14%) found cannabis ineffective at reducing seizures, 29 (15%) experienced a 1-25% reduction in seizures, 60 (18%) experienced a 26-50% reduction in seizures, 45 (17%) experienced a 51-75% reduction in seizures, 75 (28%) experienced a 76-99% reduction in seizures, and 26 (10%) experienced a complete clinical response. Overall, adverse effects were mild and infrequent, and beneficial side effects such as increased alertness were reported. The majority of patients used cannabidiol (CBD)-enriched artisanal formulas, some with the addition of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA). Four case reports are included that illustrate clinical responses at doses <0.1mg/kg/day, biphasic dose-response effects, the use of THCA for seizure prevention, the use of THC for seizure rescue, and the synergy of cannabinoids and terpenoids in artisanal preparations. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled “Cannabinoids and Epilepsy”.”


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Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinolicacid synthase production in Pichia pastoris enables chemical synthesis of cannabinoids.

“Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is of increasing interest as a pharmaceutical and bioactive compound.

Chemical synthesis of THC uses a laborious procedure and does not satisfy the market demand.

The implementation of biocatalysts for specific synthesis steps might be beneficial for making natural product availability independent from the plant.

Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinolicacid synthase (THCAS) from C. sativa L. catalyzes the cyclization of cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) to Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), which is non-enzymatically decarboxylated to THC.

In conclusion, production of THCAS in Pichia pastoris MutS KM71 KE1, subsequent isolation, and its application in a two-liquid phase setup enables the synthesis of THCA on a mg scale.”


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Photosynthetic response of Cannabis sativa L., an important medicinal plant, to elevated levels of CO2

“Cannabis sativa L. (Cannabaceae) is a widely distributed plant around the world. It has a long history of medicinal use as far back as the 6th century B.C. Cannabis sativa is the natural source of the cannabinoids, a unique group of terpeno-phenolic compounds that accumulate in the glandular trichomes of the plant.

Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (Δ9-THCA) is the major cannabinoid which upon decarboxylation with age or heating gives rise to Δ9-THC, the primary psychoactive agent. The pharmacologic and therapeutic potency of Cannabis preparations and Δ9-THC have been extensively reviewed.

Despite of its medicinal importance and widespread occurrence, to the best of our knowledge, no information is available on the consequences of rising atmospheric CO2 concentration on its photosynthesis and growth performance.

This study describes the short term effect of elevated CO2 on photosynthetic characteristics and stomatal response in four different high Δ9-THC yielding varieties of Cannabis sativa.

The higher water use efficiency (WUE) under elevated CO2 conditions in Cannabis sativa, primarily because of decreased stomatal conductance and subsequently the transpiration rate, may enable this species to survive under expected harsh greenhouse effects including elevated CO2 concentration and drought conditions.”


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High prevalence of cannabis use among Aka foragers of the Congo Basin and its possible relationship to helminthiasis

Cover image for Vol. 27 Issue 3

“Little is known about cannabis use in hunter-gatherers. Therefore, we investigated cannabis use in the Aka, a population of foragers of the Congo Basin.

Because cannabis contains anthelminthic compounds,” http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/anthelmintic ” and the Aka have a high prevalence of helminthiasis, we also tested the hypothesis that cannabis use might be an unconscious form of self-medication against helminths.

THCA levels were negatively correlated with parasite infection and reinfection, supporting the self-medication hypothesis.

This, to our knowledge, is the first biomarker-validated study of cannabis use in a hunting-gathering population, and also the first to explore the relationship between the use of cannabis, which is toxic to helminths, and intestinal helminth infection.

Although the conventional view is that drug abuse impairs immunity, thus increasing susceptibility to infection, if recreational drug use is explained by the drugs’ antiparasitic properties, this would suggest that the immune system plays a key role in regulating drug use.”  


“Medical Marijuana Smoking Linked to Parasite Prevention. Scientists from Washington State University have suggested that smoking cannabis may have a beneficial effect with regard to the avoidance of intestinal parasite infections, which could explain why the drug has such a long history of recreational use… those who smoked cannabis had a lower rate of infection.” http://www.newhistorian.com/medical-marijuana-smoking-linked-to-parasite-prevention/3936/

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Sequence heterogeneity of cannabidiolic- and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid-synthase in Cannabis sativa L. and its relationship with chemical phenotype.

“Sequence variants of THCA- and CBDA-synthases were isolated from different Cannabis sativa L. strains expressing various wild-type and mutant chemical phenotypes (chemotypes). Expressed and complete sequences were obtained from mature inflorescences. Each strain was shown to have a different specificity and/or ability to convert the precursor CBGA into CBDA and/or THCA type products. The comparison of the expressed sequences led to the identification of different mutations, all of them due to SNPs. These SNPs were found to relate to the cannabinoid composition of the inflorescence at maturity and are therefore proposed to have a functional significance. The amount of variation was found to be higher within the CBDAS sequence family than in the THCAS family, suggesting a more recent evolution of THCA-forming enzymes from the CBDAS group. We therefore consider CBDAS as the ancestral type of these synthases.”


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Recent advances in Cannabis sativa research: biosynthetic studies and its potential in biotechnology.

“Cannabinoids, consisting of alkylresorcinol and monoterpene groups, are the unique secondary metabolites that are found only in Cannabis sativa. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabichromene (CBC) are well known cannabinoids and their pharmacological properties have been extensively studied. Recently, biosynthetic pathways of these cannabinoids have been successfully established. Several biosynthetic enzymes including geranylpyrophosphate:olivetolate geranyltransferase, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) synthase, cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) synthase and cannabichromenic acid (CBCA) synthase have been purified from young rapidly expanding leaves of C. sativa. In addition, molecular cloning, characterization and localization of THCA synthase have been recently reported. THCA and cannabigerolic acid (CBGA), its substrate, were shown to be apoptosis-inducing agents that might play a role in plant defense. Transgenic tobacco hairy roots expressing THCA synthase can produce THCA upon feeding of CBGA. These results open the way for biotechnological production of cannabinoids in the future.”


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Analysis of THCA synthase gene expression in cannabis: A preliminary study by real-time quantitative PCR.

“In this paper we describe analyses performed by Real-Time Reverse-Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction (real-time RT-PCR) on RNA of 12 samples, carried out for forensic purposes to investigate a correlation between tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration in Cannabis and the tetrahydrocannabinol acid synthase (THCAS) gene expression. Samples were obtained from an experimental cultivation of declared potency Cannabis variety seeds and from seizures. The Rubisco gene and the 26S ribosomal RNA gene were used as internal control genes for their constant expression and stability. As results we found minor gene expression in samples from leaves of young plants. Further, grouping results for cannabis samples with similar characteristics, we have found an increased relative expression in samples with the highest percentage of THC coming from seized sample and adult plants.”


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Effects of cannabinoids Δ(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol, Δ(9)-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid and cannabidiol in MPP+ affected murine mesencephalic cultures.


“Cannabinoids derived from Cannabis sativa demonstrate neuroprotective properties in various cellular and animal models. Mitochondrial impairment and consecutive oxidative stress appear to be major molecular mechanisms of neurodegeneration. Therefore we studied some major cannabinoids, i.e. delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) in mice mesencephalic cultures for their protective capacities against 1-methyl-4-phenyl pyridinium (MPP(+)) toxicity. MPP(+) is an established model compound in the research of parkinsonism that acts as a complex I inhibitor of the mitochondrial respiratory chain, resulting in excessive radical formation and cell degeneration. MPP(+) (10 μM) was administered for 48 h at the 9th DIV with or without concomitant cannabinoid treatment at concentrations ranging from 0.01 to 10 μM. All cannabinoids exhibited in vitro antioxidative action ranging from 669 ± 11.1 (THC), 16 ± 3.2 (THCA) to 356 ± 29.5 (CBD) μg Trolox (a vitamin E derivative)/mg substance in the 1,1-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl radical (DPPH) assay. Cannabinoids were without effect on the morphology of dopaminergic cells stained by tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) immunoreaction. THC caused a dose-dependent increase of cell count up to 17.3% at 10 μM, whereas CBD only had an effect at highest concentrations (decrease of cell count by 10.1-20% at concentrations of 0.01-10 μM). It influenced the viability of the TH immunoreactive neurons significantly, whereas THCA exerts no influence on dopaminergic cell count. Exposure of cultures to 10 μM of MPP(+) for 48 h significantly decreased the number of TH immunoreactive neurons by 44.7%, and shrunken cell bodies and reduced neurite lengths could be observed. Concomitant treatment of cultures with cannabinoids rescued dopaminergic cells. Compared to MPP(+) treated cultures, THC counteracted toxic effects in a dose-dependent manner. THCA and CBD treatment at a concentration of 10 μM lead to significantly increased cell counts to 123% and 117%, respectively. Even though no significant preservation or recovery of neurite outgrowth to control values could be observed, our data show that cannabinoids THC and THCA protect dopaminergic neurons against MPP(+) induced cell death.”


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