Biphasic effects of cannabinoids in anxiety responses: CB1 and GABA(B) receptors in the balance of GABAergic and glutamatergic neurotransmission

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2012 Nov;37(12):2624-34. doi: 10.1038/npp.2012.123. Epub 2012 Aug 1.


Biphasic effects of cannabinoids have been shown in processes such as feeding behavior, motor activity, motivational processes and anxiety responses. Using two different tests for the characterization of anxiety-related behavior (elevated plus-maze and holeboard), we first identified in wild-type C57BL/6N mice, two doses of the synthetic CB1 cannabinoid receptor agonist CP-55,940 with anxiolytic (1 μg/kg) and anxiogenic properties (50 μg/kg), respectively. To clarify the role of CB1 receptors in this biphasic effect, both doses were applied to two different conditional CB1 receptor knockout (KO) mouse lines, GABA-CB1-KO (CB1 receptor inactivation in forebrain GABAergic neurons) and Glu-CB1-KO (CB1 receptor inactivation in cortical glutamatergic neurons). We found that the anxiolytic-like effects of the low dose of cannabinoids are mediated via the CB1 receptor on cortical glutamatergic terminals, because this anxiolytic-like response was abrogated only in Glu-CB1-KO mice. On the contrary, the CB1 receptor on the GABAergic terminals is required to induce an anxiogenic-like effect under a high-dose treatment because of the fact that this effect was abolished specifically in GABA-CB1-KO mice. These experiments were carried out in both sexes, and no differences occurred with the doses tested in the mutant mice. Interestingly, the positive allosteric modulation of GABA(B) receptor with GS-39783 was found to largely abrogate the anxiogenic-like effect of the high dose of CP-55,940. Our results shed new light in further understanding the biphasic effects of cannabinoids at the molecular level and, importantly, pave the way for the development of novel anxiolytic cannabinoid drugs, which may have favorable effect profiles targeting the CB1 receptor on glutamatergic terminals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / chemically induced*
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Cannabinoids / pharmacology*
  • Cyclohexanols / pharmacology
  • Cyclopentanes / pharmacology
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • GABA Agonists / pharmacology
  • Glutamic Acid / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Pyrimidines / pharmacology
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / agonists*
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / genetics
  • Receptors, GABA-B / drug effects*
  • Receptors, GABA-B / genetics
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / physiology*


  • Cannabinoids
  • Cyclohexanols
  • Cyclopentanes
  • GABA Agonists
  • N,N'-dicyclopentyl-2-methylsulfanyl-5-nitro-pyrimidine-4,6-diamine
  • Pyrimidines
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1
  • Receptors, GABA-B
  • Glutamic Acid
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • 3-(2-hydroxy-4-(1,1-dimethylheptyl)phenyl)-4-(3-hydroxypropyl)cyclohexanol