Parkinson's disease (PD) is a chronic neurodegenerative disorder associated with dopamine neuron loss and motor dysfunction. Neuroprotective agents that prevent dopamine neuron death hold great promise for slowing the disease's progression. The activation of cannabinoid (CB) receptors has shown neuroprotective effects in preclinical models of neurodegenerative disease, traumatic brain injury, and stroke, and may provide neuroprotection against PD. Here, we report that the selective CB2 agonist GW842166x exerted protective effects against the 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA)-induced loss of dopamine neurons and its associated motor function deficits in mice, as shown by an improvement in balance beam walking, pole, grip strength, rotarod, and amphetamine-induced rotation tests. The neuroprotective effects of GW842166x were prevented by the CB2 receptor antagonist AM630, suggesting a CB2-dependent mechanism. To investigate potential mechanisms for the neuroprotective effects of GW842166x, we performed electrophysiological recordings from substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc) dopamine neurons in ex vivo midbrain slices prepared from drug-naïve mice. We found that the bath application of GW842166x led to a decrease in action potential firing, likely due to a decrease in hyperpolarization-activated currents (Ih) and a shift of the half-activation potential (V1/2) of Ih to a more hyperpolarized level. Taken together, the CB2 agonist GW842166x may reduce the vulnerability of dopamine neurons to 6-OHDA by decreasing the action potential firing of these neurons and the associated calcium load.
Keywords: 6-OHDA; GW842166x; Ih; Parkinson’s disease; cannabinoid type 2 receptor; dopamine neuron; motor function; neuroprotection; substantia nigra pars compacta.