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Mol Pharmacol. 1999 Jan;55(1):8-13.

Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol acts as a partial agonist to modulate glutamatergic synaptic transmission between rat hippocampal neurons in culture.

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Department of Pharmacology, University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455, USA.


Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta9-THC) is the principal psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. We examined the effects of Delta9-THC on glutamatergic synaptic transmission. Reducing the extracellular Mg++ concentration bathing rat hippocampal neurons in culture to 0.1 mM elicited a repetitive pattern of glutamatergic synaptic activity that produced intracellular Ca++ concentration spikes that were measured by indo-1-based microfluorimetry. Delta9-THC produced a concentration-dependent inhibition of spike frequency with an EC50 of 20 +/- 4 nM and a maximal inhibition of 41 +/- 3%. Thus, Delta9-THC was potent, but had low intrinsic activity. Delta9-THC (100 nM) inhibition of spiking was reversed by 300 nM N-piperidino-5-(4-chlorophenyl)-1-(2, 4-dichlorophenyl)-4-methyl-3-pyrazole-carboxamide (SR 141716), indicating that the inhibition was mediated by CB1 cannabinoid receptors. Delta9-THC attenuated the inhibition produced by a full cannabinoid receptor agonist, (+)-[2, 3-dihydro-5-methyl-3-[(4-morpholinyl)methyl]pyrrolo-[1,2,3-de]-1, 4-benzoxazin-6-yl](1-napthalenyl)methanone monomethanesulfonate (Win 55212-2), indicating that Delta9-THC is a partial agonist. The effect of Delta9-THC on synaptic currents was also studied. 6-Cyano-2,3-dihydroxy-7-niroquiinoxaline (CNQX)-sensitive excitatory postsynaptic currents were recorded from cells held at -70 mV in the whole-cell configuration of the patch-clamp and elicited by presynaptic stimulation with an extracellular electrode. Win 55212-2 and Delta9-THC inhibited excitatory postsynaptic current (EPSC) amplitude by 96 +/- 2% and 57 +/- 4%, respectively. Excitatory postsynaptic current amplitude was reduced to 75 +/- 5% in the presence of both drugs, demonstrating that Delta9-THC is a partial agonist. The psychotropic effects of Delta9-THC may result from inhibition of glutamatergic synaptic transmission. The modest physical dependence produced by Delta9-THC as well as its lack of acute toxicity may be due to the ability of the drug to reduce, but not block, excitatory neurotransmission.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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