Retrograde Endocannabinoid Signaling Reduces GABAergic Synaptic Transmission to Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone Neurons

Endocrinology. 2010 Dec;151(12):5818-29. doi: 10.1210/en.2010-0638. Epub 2010 Oct 6.


Cannabinoids suppress fertility via reducing hypothalamic GnRH output. γ-Aminobutyric acid (GABA)(A) receptor (GABA(A)-R)-mediated transmission is a major input to GnRH cells that can be excitatory. We hypothesized that cannabinoids act via inhibiting GABAergic input. We performed loose-patch electrophysiological studies of acute slices from adult male GnRH-green fluorescent protein transgenic mice. Bath application of type 1 cannabinoid receptor (CB1) agonist WIN55,212 decreased GnRH neuron firing rate. This action was detectable in presence of the glutamate receptor antagonist kynurenic acid but disappeared when bicuculline was also present, indicating GABA(A)-R involvement. In immunocytochemical experiments, CB1-immunoreactive axons formed contacts with GnRH neurons and a subset established symmetric synapses characteristic of GABAergic neurotransmission. Functional studies were continued with whole-cell patch-clamp electrophysiology in presence of tetrodotoxin. WIN55,212 decreased the frequency of GABA(A)-R-mediated miniature postsynaptic currents (mPSCs) (reflecting spontaneous vesicle fusion), which was prevented with the CB1 antagonist AM251, indicating collectively that activation of presynaptic CB1 inhibits GABA release. AM251 alone increased mPSC frequency, providing evidence that endocannabinoids tonically inhibit GABA(A)-R drive onto GnRH neurons. Increased mPSC frequency was absent when diacylglycerol lipase was blocked intracellularly with tetrahydrolipstatin, showing that tonic inhibition is caused by 2-arachidonoylglycerol production of GnRH neurons. CdCl(2) in extracellular solution can maintain both action potentials and spontaneous vesicle fusion. Under these conditions, when endocannabinoid-mediated blockade of spontaneous vesicle fusion was blocked with AM251, GnRH neuron firing increased, revealing an endogenous endocannabinoid brake on GnRH neuron firing. Retrograde endocannabinoid signaling may represent an important mechanism under physiological and pathological conditions whereby GnRH neurons regulate their excitatory GABAergic inputs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arachidonic Acids / metabolism
  • Benzoxazines / pharmacology
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Calcium Channel Blockers / pharmacology
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / metabolism*
  • Endocannabinoids*
  • Genes, Transgenic, Suicide
  • Glycerides / metabolism
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone / metabolism*
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Morpholines / pharmacology
  • Naphthalenes / pharmacology
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / genetics
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism*


  • Arachidonic Acids
  • Benzoxazines
  • Calcium Channel Blockers
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Glycerides
  • Morpholines
  • Naphthalenes
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Win 55212-2
  • glyceryl 2-arachidonate