Presence of functional cannabinoid receptors in human endocrine pancreas

Diabetologia. 2008 Mar;51(3):476-87. doi: 10.1007/s00125-007-0890-y. Epub 2007 Dec 19.


Aims/hypothesis: We examined the presence of functional cannabinoid receptors 1 and 2 (CB1, CB2) in isolated human islets, phenotyped the cells producing cannabinoid receptors and analysed the actions of selective cannabinoid receptor agonists on insulin, glucagon and somatostatin secretion in vitro. We also described the localisation on islet cells of: (1) the endocannabinoid-producing enzymes N-acyl-phosphatidyl ethanolamine-hydrolysing phospholipase D and diacylglycerol lipase; and (2) the endocannabinoid-degrading enzymes fatty acid amidohydrolase and monoacyl glycerol lipase.

Methods: Real-time PCR, western blotting and immunocytochemistry were used to analyse the presence of endocannabinoid-related proteins and genes. Static secretion experiments were used to examine the effects of activating CB1 or CB2 on insulin, glucagon and somatostatin secretion and to measure changes in 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) levels within islets. Analyses were performed in isolated human islets and in paraffin-embedded sections of human pancreas.

Results: Human islets of Langerhans expressed CB1 and CB2 (also known as CNR1 and CNR2) mRNA and CB1 and CB2 proteins, and also the machinery involved in synthesis and degradation of 2-AG (the most abundant endocannabinoid, levels of which were modulated by glucose). Immunofluorescence revealed that CB1 was densely located in glucagon-secreting alpha cells and less so in insulin-secreting beta cells. CB2 was densely present in somatostatin-secreting delta cells, but absent in alpha and beta cells. In vitro experiments revealed that CB1 stimulation enhanced insulin and glucagon secretion, while CB2 agonism lowered glucose-dependent insulin secretion, showing these cannabinoid receptors to be functional.

Conclusions/interpretation: Together, these results suggest a role for endogenous endocannabinoid signalling in regulation of endocrine secretion in the human pancreas.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain Death
  • Cannabinoids / metabolism
  • Cerebellum / physiology
  • Glucagon / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / physiology
  • Islets of Langerhans / physiology*
  • Leukocytes / physiology
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / genetics
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / physiology*
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2 / genetics
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2 / physiology*
  • Somatostatin-Secreting Cells / physiology
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology


  • Cannabinoids
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2
  • Glucagon