Cannabinoid CB2 receptors protect against alcoholic liver disease by regulating Kupffer cell polarization in mice

Hepatology. 2011 Oct;54(4):1217-26. doi: 10.1002/hep.24524. Epub 2011 Sep 6.


Activation of Kupffer cells plays a central role in the pathogenesis of alcoholic liver disease. Because cannabinoid CB2 receptors (CB2) display potent anti-inflammatory properties, we investigated their role in the pathogenesis of alcoholic liver disease, focusing on the impact of CB2 on Kupffer cell polarization and the consequences on liver steatosis. Wild-type (WT) mice fed an alcohol diet showed an induction of hepatic classical (M1) and alternative (M2) markers. Cotreatment of alcohol-fed mice with the CB2 agonist, JWH-133, decreased hepatic M1 gene expression without affecting the M2 profile. In keeping with this, genetic ablation of CB2 enhanced hepatic induction of M1 gene signature and blunted the induction of M2 markers. CB2 also modulated alcohol-induced fatty liver, as shown by the reduction of hepatocyte steatosis in JWH-133-treated mice and its enhancement in CB2-/- animals. Studies in isolated Kupffer cells and cultured macrophages further demonstrated that CB2 inhibits M1 polarization and favors the transition to an M2 phenotype. In addition, conditioned-medium experiments showed that preventing M1 polarization in CB2-activated macrophages protects from lipid accumulation in hepatocytes. Heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) mediated the anti-inflammatory effects of CB2 receptors. Indeed, alcohol-fed mice treated with JWH-133 showed increased hepatic expression of macrophage HO-1, as compared to vehicle-treated counterparts. In keeping with this, JWH-133 induced HO-1 expression in cultured macrophages, and the HO-1 inhibitor, zinc protoporphyrin, blunted the inhibitory effect of JWH-133 on lipopolysaccharide-induced nuclear factor-kappa B activation and M1 polarization. Altogether, these findings demonstrate that CB2 receptors display beneficial effects on alcohol-induced inflammation by regulating M1/M2 balance in Kupffer cells, thereby reducing hepatocyte steatosis via paracrine interactions between Kupffer cells and hepatocytes. These data identify CB2 agonists as potential therapeutic agents for the management of alcoholic liver disease.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Ethanol / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Hepatocytes / cytology
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism
  • Kupffer Cells / cytology
  • Kupffer Cells / metabolism*
  • Liver Diseases, Alcoholic / metabolism*
  • Liver Diseases, Alcoholic / pathology
  • Liver Regeneration / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Random Allocation
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2 / metabolism*
  • Reference Values
  • Statistics, Nonparametric


  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2
  • Ethanol