Endocannabinoids are released following brain injury and may protect against excitotoxic damage during the acute stage of injury. Brain injury also activates microglia in a secondary inflammatory phase of more widespread damage. Most drugs targeting the acute stage are not effective if administered more than 6 hours after injury. Therefore, drugs targeting microglia later in the neurodegenerative cascade are desirable. We have found that cannabinoid CB2 receptors are upregulated during the activation of microglia following brain injury. Specifically, CB2-positive cells appear in the rat brain following both hypoxia-ischemia (HI) and middle cerebral artery occlusion (MCAO). This may regulate post-injury microglial activation and inflammatory functions. In this paper we review in vivo and in vitro studies of CB2 receptors in microglia, including our results on CB2 expression post-injury. Taken together, studies show that CB2 is upregulated during a process in which microglia become primed to proliferate, and then become fully reactive. In addition, CB2 activation appears to prevent or decrease microglial activation. In a rodent model of Alzheimers disease microglial activation was completely prevented by administration of a selective CB2 agonist. The presence of CB2 receptors in microglia in the human Alzheimers diseased brain suggests that CB2 may provide a novel target for a range of neuropathologies. We conclude that the administration of CB2 agonists and antagonists may differentially alter microglia-dependent neuroinflammation. CB2 specific compounds have considerable therapeutic appeal over CB1 compounds, as the exclusive expression of CB2 on immune cells within the brain provides a highly specialised target, without the psychoactivity that plagues CB1 directed therapies.
Keywords: Cannabinoid, CB2 receptor, inflammation, macrophage, microglia, neuroinflammation, brain injury
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