Purpose: Cannabinoids have been associated with tumor regression and apoptosis of cancer cells. Recently, we have shown that R(+)-methanandamide (R(+)-MA) induces apoptosis of H4 human neuroglioma cells via a mechanism involving de novo expression of the cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) enzyme. The present study investigated a possible involvement of a mitochondrial-driven pathway in this process.
Methods: Cell death was determined by the WST-1 cell viability test, and changes in apoptotic parameters [i.e., release of mitochondrial cytochrome c, activation of caspases, cleavage of poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP)] were detected by Western blotting.
Results: H4 cells treated with R(+)-MA showed typical signs of mitochondrial apoptosis, i.e., release of mitochondrial cytochrome c into the cytosol and activation of initiator caspase-9. Moreover, activation of the executor caspase-3 was observed following cannabinoid treatment. Cells were fully protected from apoptotic cell death by the caspase-3 inhibitor Ac-DEVD-CHO, indicating a crucial role for caspase-3 activation in R(+)-MA-elicited apoptosis. Furthermore, cleavage of the caspase-3 target protein PARP was registered. All of the aforementioned effects were substantially reduced by the selective COX-2 inhibitor celecoxib (1 muM) at a pharmacologically relevant, nonapoptotic concentration.
Conclusion: R(+)-MA-induced apoptosis is mediated via a mitochondrial-dependent pathway that becomes activated, at least in part, through up-regulation of the COX-2 enzyme.