Chronic administration of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol induces intestinal anti-inflammatory microRNA expression during acute simian immunodeficiency virus infection of rhesus macaques

J Virol. 2015 Jan 15;89(2):1168-81. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01754-14. Epub 2014 Nov 5.


Recreational and medical use of cannabis among human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected individuals has increased in recent years. In simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV)-infected macaques, chronic administration of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC) inhibited viral replication and intestinal inflammation and slowed disease progression. Persistent gastrointestinal disease/inflammation has been proposed to facilitate microbial translocation and systemic immune activation and promote disease progression. Cannabinoids including Δ9-THC attenuated intestinal inflammation in mouse colitis models and SIV-infected rhesus macaques. To determine if the anti-inflammatory effects of Δ9-THC involved differential microRNA (miRNA) modulation, we profiled miRNA expression at 14, 30, and 60 days postinfection (days p.i.) in the intestine of uninfected macaques receiving Δ9-THC (n=3) and SIV-infected macaques administered either vehicle (VEH/SIV; n=4) or THC (THC/SIV; n=4). Chronic Δ9-THC administration to uninfected macaques significantly and positively modulated intestinal miRNA expression by increasing the total number of differentially expressed miRNAs from 14 to 60 days p.i. At 60 days p.i., ∼28% of miRNAs showed decreased expression in the VEH/SIV group compared to none showing decrease in the THC/SIV group. Furthermore, compared to the VEH/SIV group, THC selectively upregulated the expression of miR-10a, miR-24, miR-99b, miR-145, miR-149, and miR-187, previously been shown to target proinflammatory molecules. NOX4, a potent reactive oxygen species generator, was confirmed as a direct miR-99b target. A significant increase in NOX4+ crypt epithelial cells was detected in VEH/SIV macaques compared to the THC/SIV group. We speculate that miR-99b-mediated NOX4 downregulation may protect the intestinal epithelium from oxidative stress-induced damage. These results support a role for differential miRNA induction in THC-mediated suppression of intestinal inflammation. Whether similar miRNA modulation occurs in other tissues requires further investigation.

Importance: Gastrointestinal (GI) tract disease/inflammation is a hallmark of HIV/SIV infection. Previously, we showed that chronic treatment of SIV-infected macaques with Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC) increased survival and decreased viral replication and infection-induced gastrointestinal inflammation. Here, we show that chronic THC administration to SIV-infected macaques induced an anti-inflammatory microRNA expression profile in the intestine at 60 days p.i. These included several miRNAs bioinformatically predicted to directly target CXCL12, a chemokine known to regulate lymphocyte and macrophage trafficking into the intestine. Specifically, miR-99b was significantly upregulated in THC-treated SIV-infected macaques and confirmed to directly target NADPH oxidase 4 (NOX4), a reactive oxygen species generator known to damage intestinal epithelial cells. Elevated miR-99b expression was associated with a significantly decreased number of NOX4+ epithelial cells in the intestines of THC-treated SIV-infected macaques. Overall, our results show that selective upregulation of anti-inflammatory miRNA expression contributes to THC-mediated suppression of gastrointestinal inflammation and maintenance of intestinal homeostasis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Dronabinol / administration & dosage*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / pathology*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Inflammation / pathology*
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • MicroRNAs / biosynthesis*
  • Simian Immunodeficiency Virus / pathogenicity*
  • Time Factors


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • MicroRNAs
  • Dronabinol