Dual regulation of anterograde and retrograde transmission by endocannabinoids

J Neurosci. 2011 Aug 17;31(33):12011-20. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2925-11.2011.


Endocannabinoids (eCBs) are feedback messengers in the nervous system that act at the presynaptic nerve terminal to inhibit transmitter release. Here we report that in brain slices from rat, eCBs are released from vasopressin (VP) neurons in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus following coincident bursts of presynaptic and postsynaptic spiking. eCBs transiently depress glutamate release from excitatory terminals and, in doing so, prevent the synapses from undergoing long-term depression (LTD). Specifically, we show that blockade of CB1 receptors unmasks LTD following coincident presynaptic and postsynaptic activity. This LTD is presynaptic in nature, but requires the release of the opioid peptide dynorphin from the postsynaptic neuron. Dynorphin release and subsequent LTD require the activation of postsynaptic metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs). Our findings indicate that eCBs, by transiently depressing glutamate release, limit mGluR activation and indirectly gate release of dynorphin from the postsynaptic neuron. We propose that eCBs, in addition to their well described role in the rapid modulation of transmitter release from the nerve terminal, also regulate the release of other retrograde transmitters and thus encode for multiple temporal windows of synaptic plasticity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / metabolism
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / physiology*
  • Endocannabinoids*
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / drug effects
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology*
  • Male
  • Paraventricular Hypothalamic Nucleus / drug effects
  • Paraventricular Hypothalamic Nucleus / metabolism
  • Piperidines / pharmacology
  • Pyrazoles / pharmacology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / metabolism
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Piperidines
  • Pyrazoles
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1
  • AM 251