Cannabinoids are known to exert immunosuppressive activities. However, the mechanisms which contribute to these effects are unknown. Using lipopolysaccharide (LPS) to activate BV-2 microglial cells, we examined how Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the major psychoactive component of marijuana, and cannabidiol (CBD) the non-psychoactive component, modulate the inflammatory response. Microarray analysis of genome-wide mRNA levels was performed using Illumina platform and the resulting expression patterns analyzed using the Ingenuity Pathway Analysis to identify functional subsets of genes, and the Ingenuity System Database to denote the gene networks regulated by CBD and THC. From the 5338 transcripts that were differentially expressed across treatments, 400 transcripts were found to be upregulated by LPS, 502 by CBD+LPS and 424 by THC+LPS, while 145 were downregulated by LPS, 297 by CBD+LPS and 149 by THC+LPS, by 2-fold or more (p≤0.005). Results clearly link the effects of CBD and THC to inflammatory signaling pathways and identify new cannabinoid targets in the MAPK pathway (Dusp1, Dusp8, Dusp2), cell cycle related (Cdkn2b, Gadd45a) as well as JAK/STAT regulatory molecules (Socs3, Cish, Stat1). The impact of CBD on LPS-stimulated gene expression was greater than that of THC. We attribute this difference to the fact that CBD highly upregulated several genes encoding negative regulators of both NFκB and AP-1 transcriptional activities, such as Trib3 and Dusp1 known to be modulated through Nrf2 activation. The CBD-specific expression profile reflected changes associated with oxidative stress and glutathione depletion via Trib3 and expression of ATF4 target genes. Furthermore, the CBD affected genes were shown to be controlled by nuclear factors usually involved in regulation of stress response and inflammation, mainly via Nrf2/Hmox1 axis and the Nrf2/ATF4-Trib3 pathway. These observations indicate that CBD, and less so THC, induce a cellular stress response and that this response underlies their high immunosuppressant activities.
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