Cannabinoids selectively inhibit proliferation and induce death of cultured human glioblastoma multiforme cells


Normal tissue toxicity limits the efficacy of current treatment modalities for glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). We evaluated the influence of cannabinoids on cell proliferation, death, and morphology of human GBM cell lines and in primary human glial cultures, the normal cells from which GBM tumors arise. The influence of a plant derived cannabinoid agonist, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol Δ9-THC), and a potent synthetic cannabinoid agonist, WIN 55,212-2, were compared using time lapse microscopy. We discovered that Δ9-THC decreases cell proliferation and increases cell death of human GBM cells more rapidly than WIN 55,212-2. Δ9-THC was also more potent at inhibiting the proliferation of GBM cells compared to WIN 55,212-2. The effects of Δ9-THC and WIN 55,212-2 on the GBM cells were partially the result of cannabinoid receptor activation. The same concentration of Δ9-THC that significantly inhibits proliferation and increases death of human GBM cells has no significant impact on human primary glial cultures. Evidence of selective efficacy with WIN 55,212-2 was also observed but the selectivity was less profound, and the synthetic agonist produced a greater disruption of normal cell morphology compared to Δ9-THC.

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extracellular signal regulated kinases


fetal bovine serum


glioblastoma multiforme


multivariate analysis of variance


mitogen-activated protein kinases




time lapse microscopy


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Correspondence to Sean D. Mc Allister.

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Allister, S.D.M., Chan, C., Taft, R.J. et al. Cannabinoids selectively inhibit proliferation and induce death of cultured human glioblastoma multiforme cells. J Neurooncol 74, 31–40 (2005).

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  • cannabinoid
  • Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol
  • extracellular signal regulated kinases
  • glioblastma multiforme
  • time lapse microscopy