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Neuropathol Appl Neurobiol. 2012 Oct;38(6):535-47. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2990.2011.01248.x.

Δ⁹-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ⁹-THC) exerts a direct neuroprotective effect in a human cell culture model of Parkinson's disease.

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  • 1Department of Clinical Neurobiology, Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK.



Δ⁹-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ⁹-THC) is neuroprotective in models of Parkinson's disease (PD). Although CB1 receptors are increased within the basal ganglia of PD patients and animal models, current evidence suggests a role for CB1 receptor-independent mechanisms. Here, we utilized a human neuronal cell culture PD model to further investigate the protective properties of Δ⁹-THC.


Differentiated SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells were exposed to PD-relevant toxins: 1-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium (MPP+), lactacystin and paraquat. Changes in CB1 receptor level were determined by quantitative polymerase chain reaction and Western blotting. Cannabinoids and modulatory compounds were co-administered with toxins for 48 h and the effects on cell death, viability, apoptosis and oxidative stress assessed.


We found CB1 receptor up-regulation in response to MPP+, lactacystin and paraquat and a protective effect of Δ⁹-THC against all three toxins. This neuroprotective effect was not reproduced by the CB1 receptor agonist WIN55,212-2 or blocked by the CB1 antagonist AM251. Furthermore, the antioxidants α-tocopherol and butylhydroxytoluene as well as the antioxidant cannabinoids, nabilone and cannabidiol were unable to elicit the same neuroprotection as Δ⁹-THC. However, the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma (PPARγ) antagonist T0070907 dose-dependently blocked the neuroprotective, antioxidant and anti-apoptotic effects of Δ⁹-THC, while the PPARγ agonist pioglitazone resulted in protection from MPP+-induced neurotoxicity. Furthermore, Δ⁹-THC increased PPARγ expression in MPP+-treated SH-SY5Y cells, another indicator of PPARγ activation.


We have demonstrated up-regulation of the CB1 receptor in direct response to neuronal injury in a human PD cell culture model, and a direct neuronal protective effect of Δ⁹-THC that may be mediated through PPARγ activation.

© 2011 The Authors. Neuropathology and Applied Neurobiology © 2011 British Neuropathological Society.

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