CB2 Receptor Agonists Protect Human Dopaminergic Neurons Against Damage From HIV-1 gp120

PLoS One. 2013 Oct 17;8(10):e77577. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0077577. eCollection 2013.


Despite the therapeutic impact of anti-retroviral therapy, HIV-1-associated neurocognitive disorder (HAND) remains a serious threat to AIDS patients, and there currently remains no specific therapy for the neurological manifestations of HIV-1. Recent work suggests that the nigrostriatal dopaminergic area is a critical brain region for the neuronal dysfunction and death seen in HAND and that human dopaminergic neurons have a particular sensitivity to gp120-induced damage, manifested as reduced function (decreased dopamine uptake), morphological changes, and reduced viability. Synthetic cannabinoids inhibit HIV-1 expression in human microglia, suppress production of inflammatory mediators in human astrocytes, and there is substantial literature demonstrating the neuroprotective properties of cannabinoids in other neuropathogenic processes. Based on these data, experiments were designed to test the hypothesis that synthetic cannabinoids will protect dopaminergic neurons against the toxic effects of the HIV-1 protein gp120. Using a human mesencephalic neuronal/glial culture model, which contains dopaminergic neurons, microglia, and astrocytes, we were able to show that the CB1/CB2 agonist WIN55,212-2 blunts gp120-induced neuronal damage as measured by dopamine transporter function, apoptosis and lipid peroxidation; these actions were mediated principally by the CB2 receptor. Adding supplementary human microglia to our cultures enhances gp120-induced damage; WIN55,212-2 is able to alleviate this enhanced damage. Additionally, WIN55,212-2 inhibits gp120-induced superoxide production by purified human microglial cells, inhibits migration of human microglia towards supernatants generated from gp120-stimulated human mesencephalic neuronal/glial cultures and reduces chemokine and cytokine production from the human mesencephalic neuronal/glial cultures. These data suggest that synthetic cannabinoids are capable of protecting human dopaminergic neurons from gp120 in a variety of ways, acting principally through the CB2 receptors and microglia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Benzoxazines / pharmacology*
  • Cell Movement / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis
  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / metabolism
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / drug effects*
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / metabolism
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / pathology
  • HIV Envelope Protein gp120 / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Lipid Peroxidation
  • Mesencephalon / cytology
  • Microglia / drug effects
  • Microglia / metabolism
  • Morpholines / pharmacology*
  • Naphthalenes / pharmacology*
  • Neuroprotective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2 / agonists*
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2 / metabolism
  • Recombinant Proteins / pharmacology*
  • Superoxides / metabolism


  • Benzoxazines
  • Cytokines
  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • HIV Envelope Protein gp120
  • Morpholines
  • Naphthalenes
  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Superoxides
  • Win 55212-2