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Cannabinoids and Bone: Friend or Foe?

Abstract

The endocannabinoid system is recognized to play an important role in regulating a variety of physiological processes, including appetite control and energy balance, pain perception, and immune responses. The endocannabinoid system has also recently been implicated in the regulation of bone metabolism. Endogenously produced cannabinoids are hydrophobic molecules derived from hydrolysis of membrane phospholipids. These substances, along with plant-derived and synthetic cannabinoids, interact with the type 1 (CB1) and 2 (CB2) cannabinoid receptors and the GPR55 receptor to regulate cellular function through a variety of signaling pathways. Endocannabinoids are produced in bone, but the mechanisms that regulate their production are unclear. Skeletal phenotyping of mice with targeted inactivation of cannabinoid receptors and pharmacological studies have shown that cannabinoids play a key role in the regulation of bone metabolism. Mice with CB1 deficiency have high peak bone mass as a result of an osteoclast defect but develop age-related osteoporosis as a result of impaired bone formation and accumulation of bone marrow fat. Mice with CB2 deficiency have relatively normal peak bone mass but develop age-related osteoporosis as a result of increased bone turnover with uncoupling of bone resorption from bone formation. Mice with GPR55 deficiency have increased bone mass as a result of a defect in the resorptive activity of osteoclasts, but bone formation is unaffected. Cannabinoids are also produced within synovial tissues, and preclinical studies have shown that cannabinoid receptor ligands are effective in the treatment of inflammatory arthritis. These data indicate that cannabinoid receptors and the enzymes responsible for ligand synthesis and breakdown play important roles in bone remodeling and in the pathogenesis of joint disease.

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Acknowledgments

This research is supported by a grant from the Arthritis Research Campaign (grant 17713). Aymen I. Idris is a recipient of a fellowship from the European Calcified Tissue International Society and Amgen. The authors are coinventors on patents claiming the use of cannabinoid receptor ligands as treatments for bone disease.

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Correspondence to Stuart H. Ralston.

Additional information

The authors are co-inventors on patents claiming the use of cannabinoid receptor ligands as treatments for bone disease.

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Idris, A.I., Ralston, S.H. Cannabinoids and Bone: Friend or Foe?. Calcif Tissue Int 87, 285–297 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00223-010-9378-8

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Keywords

  • Anabolic agents
  • Adipocytes
  • Osteoporosis: Animal models
  • Osteoclasts