The CB1 cannabinoid receptor, the main molecular target of endocannabinoids and cannabis active components, is the most abundant G protein-coupled receptor in the mammalian brain. Of note, CB1 receptors are expressed at the synapses of two opposing (i.e., GABAergic/inhibitory and glutamatergic/excitatory) neuronal populations, so the activation of one and/or another receptor population may conceivably evoke different effects. Despite the widely reported neuroprotective activity of the CB1 receptor in animal models, the precise pathophysiological relevance of those two CB1 receptor pools in neurodegenerative processes is unknown. Here, we first induced excitotoxic damage in the mouse brain by (i) administering quinolinic acid to conditional mutant animals lacking CB1 receptors selectively in GABAergic or glutamatergic neurons, and (ii) manipulating corticostriatal glutamatergic projections remotely with a designer receptor exclusively activated by designer drug pharmacogenetic approach. We next examined the alterations that occur in the R6/2 mouse, a well-established model of Huntington disease, upon (i) fully knocking out CB1 receptors, and (ii) deleting CB1 receptors selectively in corticostriatal glutamatergic or striatal GABAergic neurons. The data unequivocally identify the restricted population of CB1 receptors located on glutamatergic terminals as an indispensable player in the neuroprotective activity of (endo)cannabinoids, therefore suggesting that this precise receptor pool constitutes a promising target for neuroprotective therapeutic strategies.
Keywords: excitotoxicity; neuromodulation; neuroprotection.