Developing cannabinoid-based medication along with marijuana's recreational use makes it important to investigate molecular adaptations the endocannabinoid system undergoes following prolonged use and withdrawal. Repeated cannabinoid administration results in development of tolerance and produces withdrawal symptoms that may include seizures. Here we employed electrophysiological and immunochemical techniques to investigate the effects of prolonged CB1 receptor agonist exposure on cultured hippocampal neurons. Approximately 60% of CB1 receptors colocalize to GABAergic terminals in hippocampal cultures. Prolonged treatment with the cannabinamimetic WIN 55,212-2 (+WIN, 1 μM, 24 h) caused profound CB1 receptor downregulation accompanied by neuronal hyperexcitability. Furthermore, prolonged +WIN treatment resulted in increased GABA release as indicated by increased mIPSC frequency, a diminished GABAergic inhibition as indicated by reduction in mIPSC amplitude and a reduction in GABA(A) channel number. Additionally, surface staining for the GABA(A) β(2/3) receptor subunits was decreased, while no changes in staining for the presynaptic vesicular GABA transporter were observed, indicating that GABAergic terminals remained intact. These findings demonstrate that agonist-induced downregulation of the CB1 receptor in hippocampal cultures results in neuronal hyperexcitability that may be attributed, in part, to alterations in both presynaptic GABA release mechanisms and postsynaptic GABA(A) receptor function demonstrating a novel role for cannabinoid-dependent presynaptic control of neuronal transmission.
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