The endocannabinoid system in Huntington's disease

Curr Pharm Des. 2008;14(23):2317-25. doi: 10.2174/138161208785740108.


The hypokinetic profile of certain cannabinoid agonists becomes these compounds as promising medicines to attenuate the hyperkinesia that characterizes the first grades of Huntington's disease (HD) and that represents the major neurological abnormality in this disease. The fact that CB(1) receptors, the receptor type involved in motor effects of cannabinoid agonists, are significantly reduced in the basal ganglia during the progression of HD represents a convincing explanation for the hyperkinesia typical of this disorder and supports the usefulness of enhancing CB(1) receptor signaling in HD. However, further studies revealed that the key property that enables certain cannabinoid agonists to reduce hyperkinesia is their capability to directly activate vanilloid TRPV(1) receptors. Cannabinoids may also serve to delay/arrest the progression of HD by protecting striatal projection neurons from death. Several cannabinoid agonists have been tested for this purpose in various animal models of HD, and these studies revealed that the major characteristics that enable cannabinoids to provide neuroprotection are three: (i) a reduction in inflammatory events exerted through activating CB(2) receptors located in glial cells; (ii) a normalization of glutamate homeostasis, then limiting excitotoxicity, an effect that would be exerted through CB(1) receptors; and (iii) an antioxidant effect exerted by cannabinoid receptor-independent mechanisms. The changes experienced by the endocannabinoid signaling system during the striatal degeneration support this neuroprotective effect, particularly the up-regulatory responses proved by CB(2) receptors in glial cells recruited at lesioned sites. The present article will review the neurochemical and pharmacological bases that sustain the importance of the endocannabinoid system in the pathophysiology of HD, trying to collect the present information and the future lines for research on the therapeutic potential of this system in this disorder.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / metabolism*
  • Cannabinoids / pharmacology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Endocannabinoids*
  • Humans
  • Huntington Disease / physiopathology*
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / agonists
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / metabolism
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2 / agonists
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2 / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • TRPV Cation Channels / drug effects
  • TRPV Cation Channels / metabolism


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Cannabinoids
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2
  • TRPV Cation Channels
  • TRPV1 receptor