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Neuropharmacology. 2010 Jul-Aug;59(1-2):121-7. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2010.04.013. Epub 2010 Apr 22.

Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol is a full agonist at CB1 receptors on GABA neuron axon terminals in the hippocampus.

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Electrophysiology Research Section, National Institute on Drug Abuse Intramural Research Program, National Institutes of Health, Baltimore, MD 21224, USA.


Marijuana impairs learning and memory through actions of its psychoactive constituent, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta(9)-THC), in the hippocampus, through activation of cannabinoid CB1 receptors (CB1R). CB1Rs are found on glutamate and GABA neuron axon terminals in the hippocampus where they control neurotransmitter release. Previous studies suggest that Delta(9)-THC is a partial agonist of CB1Rs on glutamate axon terminals in the hippocampus, whereas its effects on GABA terminals have not been described. Using whole-cell electrophysiology in brain slices from C57BL6/J mice, we examined Delta(9)-THC effects on synaptic GABA IPSCs and postsynaptic GABA currents elicited by laser-induced photo-uncaging (photolysis) of alpha-carboxy-2-nitrobenzyl (CNB) caged GABA. Despite robust inhibition of synaptic IPSCs in wildtype mice by the full synthetic agonist WIN55,212-2, using a Tween-80 and DMSO vehicle, Delta(9)-THC had no effects on IPSCs in this, or in a low concentration of another vehicle, randomly-methylated beta-cyclodextrin (RAMEB, 0.023%). However, IPSCs were inhibited by Delta(9)-THC in 0.1% RAMEB, but not in neurons from CB1R knockout mice. Whereas Delta(9)-THC did not affect photolysis-evoked GABA currents, these responses were prolonged by a GABA uptake inhibitor. Concentration-response curves revealed that the maximal effects of Delta(9)-THC and WIN55,212-2 were similar, indicating that Delta(9)-THC is a full agonist at CB1Rs on GABA axon terminals. These results suggest that Delta(9)-THC inhibits GABA release, but does not directly alter GABA(A) receptors or GABA uptake in the hippocampus. Furthermore, full agonist effects of Delta(9)-THC on IPSCs likely result from a much higher expression of CB1Rs on GABA versus glutamate axon terminals in the hippocampus.

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