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J Neuroimmune Pharmacol. 2012 Dec;7(4):843-55. doi: 10.1007/s11481-011-9293-4. Epub 2011 Jul 26.

Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol suppresses cytotoxic T lymphocyte function independent of CB1 and CB 2, disrupting early activation events.

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  • 1Cell and Molecular Biology Program, East Lansing, USA.


Previously, CD8(+) T cells were found to be a sensitive target for suppression by Δ(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ(9)-THC) in a murine model of influenza infection. To study the effect of Δ(9)-THC on CD8(+) cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL), an allogeneic model of MHC I mismatch was used to elicit CTL. In addition, to determine the requirement for the cannabinoid receptors 1 (CB(1)) and 2 (CB(2)) in Δ(9)-THC-mediated CTL response modulation, mice null for both receptors were used (CB(1) (-/-)CB(2) (-/-)). Δ(9)-THC suppressed CTL function independent of CB(1) and CB(2) as evidenced by reduction of (51)Cr release by CTL generated from CB(1) (-/-)CB(2) (-/-) mice. Furthermore, viability in CD4(+) and CD8(+) cells was reduced in a concentration-dependent manner with Δ(9)-THC, independent of CB(1) and CB(2), but no effect of Δ(9)-THC on proliferation was observed, suggesting that Δ(9)-THC decreases the number of T cells initially activated. Δ(9)-THC increased expression of the activation markers, CD69 in CD8(+) cells and CD25 in CD4(+) cells in a concentration-dependent manner in cells derived from WT and CB(1) (-/-)CB(2) (-/-) mice. Furthermore, Δ(9)-THC synergized with the calcium ionophore, ionomycin, to increase CD69 expression on both CD4(+) and CD8(+) cells. In addition, without stimulation, Δ(9)-THC increased CD69 expression in CD8(+) cells from CB(1) (-/-)CB(2) (-/-) and WT mice. Overall, these results suggest that CB(1) and CB(2) are dispensable for Δ(9)-THC-mediated suppression and that perturbation of Ca(2+) signals during T cell activation plays an important role in the mechanism by which Δ(9)-THC suppresses CTL function.

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