Excitotoxic neuronal death underlies many neurodegenerative disorders. Because cannabinoid receptor agonists act presynaptically to inhibit glutamate release, we examined the effects of Win 55212-2, a full agonist at CB1 receptors, and Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a partial agonist, on the survival of neurons exposed to an excitotoxic pattern of synaptic activity. Reducing the extracellular Mg2+ concentration ([Mg2+]o) to 0.1 mM evoked an aberrant pattern of glutamatergic activity that produced synaptically mediated death of rat hippocampal neurons in culture. Neuronal viability was quantified with a multiwell fluorescence plate scanner equipped to detect propidium iodide fluorescence. Win 55212-2 (100 nM) and THC (100 nM) significantly reduced 0.1 mM [Mg2+]o-induced cell death by 77 ± 11% and 84 ± 8%, respectively. Interestingly, the protection afforded by THC was not significantly different from that produced by Win 55212-2, suggesting that attenuation without a complete block of excitatory activity is sufficient for neuroprotection. The effect of prolonged drug exposure on the neuroprotection afforded by cannabinoid receptor agonists was also studied. When cultures were pretreated for 24 h with Win 55212-2 (100 nM) or THC (100 nM), inhibition of 0.1 mM [Mg2+]o-induced toxicity was significantly reduced to 39 ± 19% and 45 ± 13%, respectively. Thus, desensitization of CB1 receptors diminishes the neuroprotective effects of cannabinoids. This study demonstrates the importance of agonist efficacy and the duration of treatment on the neuroprotective effects of cannabinoids. It will be important to consider these effects on neuronal survival when evaluating pharmacologic treatments that modulate the endocannabinoid system.
- Win 55212-2