Differential expression of cannabinoid receptors in the human colon: cannabinoids promote epithelial wound healing

Gastroenterology. 2005 Aug;129(2):437-53. doi: 10.1016/j.gastro.2005.05.026.


Background & aims: Two G-protein-coupled cannabinoid receptors, termed CB1 and CB2, have been identified and several mammalian enteric nervous systems express CB1 receptors and produce endocannabinoids. An immunomodulatory role for the endocannabinoid system in gastrointestinal inflammatory disorders has been proposed and this study sought to determine the location of both cannabinoid receptors in human colon and to investigate epithelial receptor function.

Methods: The location of CB1 and CB2 receptors in human colonic tissue was determined by immunohistochemistry. Primary colonic epithelial cells were treated with both synthetic and endogenous cannabinoids in vitro, and biochemical coupling of the receptors to known signaling events was determined by immunoblotting. Human colonic epithelial cell lines were used in cannabinoid-binding studies and as a model for in vitro wound-healing experiments.

Results: CB1-receptor immunoreactivity was evident in normal colonic epithelium, smooth muscle, and the submucosal myenteric plexus. CB1- and CB2-receptor expression was present on plasma cells in the lamina propria, whereas only CB2 was present on macrophages. CB2 immunoreactivity was seen in the epithelium of colonic tissue characteristic of inflammatory bowel disease. Cannabinoids enhanced epithelial wound closure either alone or in combination with lysophosphatidic acid through a CB1-lysophosphatidic acid 1 heteromeric receptor complex.

Conclusions: CB1 receptors are expressed in normal human colon and colonic epithelium is responsive biochemically and functionally to cannabinoids. Increased epithelial CB2-receptor expression in human inflammatory bowel disease tissue implies an immunomodulatory role that may impact on mucosal immunity.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Biopsy, Needle
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / analysis
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / metabolism*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Colon / metabolism
  • Colon / pathology*
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Epithelial Cells / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / metabolism
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / pathology*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Intestinal Mucosa / pathology*
  • Male
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid / analysis
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid / metabolism*
  • Reference Values
  • Sampling Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tissue Culture Techniques
  • Wound Healing / physiology*


  • Biomarkers
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid