Discovery of the presence and functional expression of cannabinoid CB2 receptors in brain

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2006 Aug:1074:514-36. doi: 10.1196/annals.1369.052.


Two well-characterized cannabinoid receptors (CBrs), CB1 and CB2, mediate the effects of cannabinoids and marijuana use, with functional evidence for other CBrs. CB1 receptors are expressed primarily in brain and peripheral tissues. For over a decade several laboratories were unable to detect CB2 receptors in brain and were known to be intensely expressed in peripheral and immune tissues and have traditionally been referred to as peripheral CB2 CBrs. We have reported the discovery and functional presence of CB2 cannabinoid receptors in mammalian brain that may be involved in depression and drug abuse and this was supported by reports of identification of neuronal CB2 receptors that are involved in emesis. We used RT-PCR, immunoblotting, hippocampal cultures, immunohistochemistry, transmission electron microscopy, and stereotaxic techniques with behavioral assays to determine the functional expression of CB2 CBrs in rat brain and mice brain exposed to chronic mild stress (CMS) or those treated with abused drugs. RT-PCR analyses supported the expression of brain CB2 receptor transcripts at levels much lower than those of CB1 receptors. In situ hybridization revealed CB2 mRNA in cerebellar neurons of wild-type but not of CB2 knockout mice. Abundant CB2 receptor immunoreactivity (iCB2) in neuronal and glial processes was detected in brain and CB2 expression was detected in neuron-specific enolase (NSE) positive hippocampal cell cultures. The effect of direct CB2 antisense oligonucleotide injection into the brain and treatment with JWH015 in motor function and plus-maze tests also demonstrated the functional presence of CB2 cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system (CNS). Thus, contrary to the prevailing view that CB2 CBrs are restricted to peripheral tissues and predominantly in immune cells, we demonstrated that CB2 CBrs and their gene transcripts are widely distributed in the brain. This multifocal expression of CB2 immunoreactivity in brain suggests that CB2 receptors may play broader roles in the brain than previously anticipated and may be exploited as new targets in the treatment of depression and substance abuse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology
  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 1
  • Depression / genetics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Indoles / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / genetics*
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2 / metabolism*
  • Spleen / metabolism
  • Substance-Related Disorders / genetics
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • Indoles
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2
  • JHW 015