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Cancer Res. 2004 Mar 15;64(6):1943-50.

Cannabinoids induce cancer cell proliferation via tumor necrosis factor alpha-converting enzyme (TACE/ADAM17)-mediated transactivation of the epidermal growth factor receptor.

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Department of Molecular Biology, Max-Planck-Institute of Biochemistry, Am Klopferspitz 18A, D-82152 Martinsried, Germany.


Cannabinoids, the active components of marijuana and their endogenous counterparts were reported as useful analgetic agents to accompany primary cancer treatment by preventing nausea, vomiting, and pain and by stimulating appetite. Moreover, they have been shown to inhibit cell growth and to induce apoptosis in tumor cells. Here, we demonstrate that anandamide, Delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), HU-210, and Win55,212-2 promote mitogenic kinase signaling in cancer cells. Treatment of the glioblastoma cell line U373-MG and the lung carcinoma cell line NCI-H292 with nanomolar concentrations of THC led to accelerated cell proliferation that was completely dependent on metalloprotease and epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) activity. EGFR signal transactivation was identified as the mechanistic link between cannabinoid receptors and the activation of the mitogen-activated protein kinases extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 as well as prosurvival protein kinase B (Akt/PKB) signaling. Depending on the cellular context, signal cross-communication was mediated by shedding of proAmphiregulin (proAR) and/or proHeparin-binding epidermal growth factor-like growth factor (proHB-EGF) by tumor necrosis factor alpha converting enzyme (TACE/ADAM17). Taken together, our data show that concentrations of THC comparable with those detected in the serum of patients after THC administration accelerate proliferation of cancer cells instead of apoptosis and thereby contribute to cancer progression in patients.

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