Background and Purpose: Corneal injury can result in dysfunction of corneal nociceptive signaling and corneal sensitization. Activation of the endocannabinoid system has been reported to be analgesic and anti-inflammatory. The purpose of this research was to investigate the antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory effects of cannabinoids with reported actions at cannabinoid 1 (CB1R) and cannabinoid 2 (CB2R) receptors and/or noncannabinoid receptors in an experimental model of corneal hyperalgesia. Methods: Corneal hyperalgesia (increased pain response) was generated using chemical cauterization of the corneal epithelium in wild-type (WT) and CB2R knockout (CB2R-/-) mice. Cauterized eyes were treated topically with the phytocannabinoids Δ8-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ8THC) or cannabidiol (CBD), or the CBD derivative HU-308, in the presence or absence of the CB1R antagonist AM251 (2.0 mg/kg i.p.), or the 5-HT1A receptor antagonist WAY100635 (1 mg/kg i.p.). Behavioral pain responses to a topical capsaicin challenge at 6 h postinjury were quantified from video recordings. Mice were euthanized at 6 and 12 h postcorneal injury for immunohistochemical analysis to quantify corneal neutrophil infiltration. Results: Corneal cauterization resulted in hyperalgesia to capsaicin at 6 h postinjury compared to sham control eyes. Neutrophil infiltration, indicative of inflammation, was apparent at 6 and 12 h postinjury in WT mice. Application of Δ8THC, CBD, and HU-308 reduced the pain score and neutrophil infiltration in WT mice. The antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory actions of Δ8THC, but not CBD, were blocked by the CB1R antagonist AM251, but were still apparent, for both cannabinoids, in CB2R-/- mice. However, the antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory actions of HU-308 were absent in the CB2R-/- mice. The antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory effects of CBD were blocked by the 5-HT1A antagonist WAY100635. Conclusion: Topical cannabinoids reduce corneal hyperalgesia and inflammation. The antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory effects of Δ8THC are mediated primarily via CB1R, whereas that of the cannabinoids CBD and HU-308, involve activation of 5-HT1A receptors and CB2Rs, respectively. Cannabinoids could be a novel clinical therapy for corneal pain and inflammation resulting from ocular surface injury.
Keywords: cannabinoids; cornea; hyperalgesia; inflammation; pain.