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JWH-133, a Selective Cannabinoid CB2 Receptor Agonist, Exerts Toxic Effects on Neuroblastoma SH-SY5Y Cells


Endocannabinoid system plays an important role in the regulation of diverse physiological functions. Although cannabinoid type 2 receptors (CB2) are involved in the modulation of immune system in peripheral tissues, recent findings demonstrated that they are also expressed in the central nervous system and could constitute a new target for the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders. At present, very little is known about the potential effects of CB2-mimetic drugs on neuronal cells. This study aimed to examine whether JWH-133, a selective CB2 receptor agonist, affects the survival of SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cell line, a widely used experimental in vitro model to study mechanisms of toxicity and protection in nigral dopaminergic neurons. Cell viability was assessed using two complementary methods: MTT test measuring mitochondrial activity and LDHe test indicating disruption of cell membrane integrity. In addition, cell proliferation was measured using BrdU incorporation assay. JWH-133 (10–40 μM) induced a concentration-dependent decrease of SH-SY5Y cell viability and proliferation rate. Using AM-630, a reverse agonist of CB2 receptors, as well as Z-VAD-FMK, a pan-caspase inhibitor, we demonstrated that the cytotoxic effect of JWH-133 presumably was not mediated by activation of CB2 receptors or by caspase pathway. Results of this work suggest that agonists of CB2 receptors when administered in multiple/high doses may induce neuronal damage.

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CB2 :

Cannabinoid type 2 receptor




Lactate dehydrogenase


3-(4,5-Dimethyl-2-thiazolyl)-2,5-diphenyl-2H-tetrazolium bromide


Benzyloxy carbonyl-Val-Ala-Asp(OMe)-fluoromethylketone


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Supported by grants from the National Science Centre (NCN), Cracow, Poland (2014/13/8/B/NZ7/02237) and Medical University of Lodz, Lodz, Poland (503/3-011-01/503-31-002).

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Correspondence to Jolanta B. Zawilska.

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Wojcieszak, J., Krzemień, W. & Zawilska, J.B. JWH-133, a Selective Cannabinoid CB2 Receptor Agonist, Exerts Toxic Effects on Neuroblastoma SH-SY5Y Cells. J Mol Neurosci 58, 441–445 (2016).

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  • Cytotoxicity
  • JWH-133
  • Cannabinoid receptors
  • SH-SY5Y cells