The AAPS Journal

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp E112–E117 | Cite as

Activation of G-proteins in brain by endogenous and exogenous cannabinoids



The biological response to cannabinoid agonist begins when the agonist-bound receptor activates G-protein Gα subunits, thus initiating a cascade of signal transduction pathways. For this reason, information about cannabinoid receptors/G-protein coupling is critical to understand both the acute and chronic actions of cannabinoids. This review focuses on these mechanisms, predominantly examining the ability of cannabinoid agonists to activate G-proteins in brain with agonist-stimulated [35S]guanylyl-5′-O-(γ-thio)-triphosphate ([35S]GTPγS) binding. Acute efficacies of cannabinoid agonists at the level of G-protein activation depend not only on the ability of the agonist to induce a high affinity state in Gα for GTP, but also to induce a low affinity for GDP. When several agonists are compared, it is clear that cannabinoid agonists differ considerably in their efficacy. Both WIN 55212-2 and levonantradol are full agonists, while Δ9 is a weak partial agonist. Of interest, anandamide and its stable analog methanand amide are partial agonists. Chronic treatment in vivo with cannabinoids produces significant tolerance to the physiological and behavioral effects of these drugs, and several studies have shown that this is accompanied by a significant loss in the ability of cannabinoid receptors to couple to G-proteins in brain. These effects vary across different brain regions and are usually (but not always) accompanied by loss of cannabinoid receptor binding. Although the relationship between cannabinoid receptor desensitization and tolerance has not yet been established, these mechanisms may represent events that lead to a loss of cannabinoid agonist response and development of tolerance.

Key words

G-protein Efficacy Signal transduction Anandamide Delta-9-tetrahydrocannibinol Levonantradol Desensitization 


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Copyright information

© American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Center for the Neurobiological Investigation of Drug AbuseWake Forest University School of MedicineWinston-Salem

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