Selective activation of cannabinoid receptor 2 regulates Treg/Th17 balance to ameliorate neutrophilic asthma in mice

Ann Transl Med. 2021 Jun;9(12):1015. doi: 10.21037/atm-21-2778.


Background: The cannabinoid receptor 2 (CNR2) plays a critical role in relieving asthma, with the mechanism still unclear. We aimed to investigate the mechanism of the CNR2 agonist (β-caryophyllene, β-Car) in regulating the balance of regulatory T cells (Treg) and T helper cell 17 (Th17) and thus its role in asthma.

Methods: The study group of 50 pathogen-free female BALB/c mice were randomly divided at 6-8 weeks old into five groups of Control, Asthma, Asthma + β-Car (10 mg/kg), Asthma + β-Car + SR144528 (specific CNR2 antagonist, 3 mg/kg), and Asthma + β-Car + CMD178 (inhibitor of Treg cell, 10 mg/kg). ELISA was conducted to evaluate the main inflammatory cytokines [interleukin (IL)-6, IL-8, and tumor necrosis factor-α], and those secreted by Treg (transforming growth factor-β and IL-10), and Th17 (IL-17A and IL-22). Markers of Treg and Th17 cells were assessed by flow cytometry. In vitro, the CD4+ T cells were sorted and directed to differentiate to Treg and Th17 cells. The expression levels of CNR2, STAT5 and JNK1/2 were investigated by western blot and immunofluorescence assay.

Results: β-Car relieved neutrophilic asthma severity in mice by elevating the marker genes' expression of Treg and inhibiting those of Th17, causing an increased proportion of Treg to Th17. β-Car also promoted the directed differentiation of CD4+ T cells into Treg, but not Th17. Activation of the CNR2 regulated the Treg/Th17 balance and relieved neutrophilic asthma possibly through promotion of phosphorylation of STAT5 and JNK1/2.

Conclusions: The effect of the selective CNR2 agonist activating STAT5 and JNK1/2 signaling was to change the Treg/Th17 balance and reduce the inflammatory reaction, thus ameliorating neutrophilic asthma in a mouse model.

Keywords: CB2 receptor; T helper cell 17 (Th17); Treg; inflammation; neutrophilic asthma.