Δ9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the principal psychoactive and non-psychoactive components of cannabis. While most THC-induced behavioral effects are thought to depend on endogenous cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors, the molecular targets for CBD remain unclear. Here, we report that CBD and THC inhibited the function of human 5-HT3A receptors (h5-HT3ARs) expressed in HEK 293 cells. The magnitude of THC and CBD inhibition was maximal 5 min after a continuous incubation with cannabinoids. The EC50 values for CBD and THC-induced inhibition were 110 nM and 322 nM respectively in HEK 293 cells expressing h5-HT3ARs. In these cells, CBD and THC did not stimulate specific [35S]-GTP-γs binding in membranes, suggesting that the inhibition by cannabinoids is unlikely mediated by a G-protein dependent mechanism. On the other hand, both CBD and THC accelerated receptor desensitization kinetics without significantly changing activation time. The extent of cannabinoid inhibition appeared to depend on receptor desensitization. Reducing receptor desensitization by nocodazole, 5-hydroxyindole and a point-mutation in the large cytoplasmic domain of the receptor significantly decreased CBD-induced inhibition. Similarly, the magnitude of THC and CBD-induced inhibition varied with the apparent desensitization rate of h5-HT3ARs expressed in Xenopus oocytes. For instance, with increasing amount of h5-HT3AR cRNA injected into the oocytes, the receptor desensitization rate at steady state decreased. THC and CBD-induced inhibition was correlated with the change in the receptor desensitization rate. Thus, CBD and THC inhibit h5-HT3A receptors through a mechanism that is dependent on receptor desensitization.
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