CB2 cannabinoid receptor agonist, JWH-015, triggers apoptosis in immune cells: potential role for CB2-selective ligands as immunosuppressive agents.


Cannabinoids are known to interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors expressed in the nervous and immune system, respectively, and mediate a wide range of effects, including anti-inflammatory properties. However, cannabinoids that bind CB1 are also psychoactive thereby limiting their clinical use. In this study, we investigated the immunosuppressive properties of JWH-015, a synthetic CB2-selective agonist. We found that JWH-015 triggered apoptosis in thymocytes in vitro and inhibited the proliferative response of T and B cells to mitogens through induction of apoptosis. JWH-015 induced cross-talk between extrinsic and intrinsic pathways of apoptosis involving caspase-8, caspase-9, and caspase-3 as well as loss of mitochondrial membrane potential. Finally, administration of JWH-015 in vivo caused thymic atrophy, apoptosis, and decreased peripheral T cell response to mitogens. Together, this study suggests that CB2-selective agonists, devoid of psychotropic effect, may serve as novel anti-inflammatory/immunosuppressive agents.