We have previously reported that Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), the main psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana, suppresses CD40 ligand (CD40L) expression by activated mouse CD4+ T cells. CD40L is involved in pathogenesis of many autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. In the present study, we investigated the molecular mechanism of Δ9-THC-mediated suppression of CD40L expression using peripheral blood human T cells. Pretreatment with Δ9-THC attenuated CD40L expression in human CD4+ T cells activated by anti-CD3/CD28 at both the protein and mRNA level, as determined by flow cytometry and quantitative real-time PCR, respectively. Electrophoretic mobility shift assays revealed that Δ9-THC suppressed the DNA-binding activity of both NFAT and NFκB to their respective response elements within the CD40L promoter. An assessment of the effect of Δ9-THC on proximal T cell-receptor (TCR) signaling induced by anti-CD3/CD28 showed significant impairment in the rise of intracellular calcium, but no significant effect on the phosphorylation of ZAP70, PLCγ1/2, Akt, and GSK3β. Collectively, these findings identify perturbation of the calcium-NFAT and NFκB signaling cascade as a key mechanistic event by which Δ9-THC suppresses human T cell function.
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