Effect of cannabidiol on apoptosis and cellular interferon and interferon-stimulated gene responses to the SARS-CoV-2 genes ORF8, ORF10 and M protein

Life Sci. 2022 Jul 15;301:120624. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2022.120624. Epub 2022 May 11.


Aims: To study effects on cellular innate immune responses to ORF8, ORF10, and Membrane protein (M protein) from the Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19, in combination with cannabidiol (CBD).

Main methods: HEK293 cells transfected with plasmids expressing control vector, ORF8, ORF10, or M protein were assayed for cell number and markers of apoptosis at 24 h, and interferon and interferon-stimulated gene expression at 14 h, with or without CBD. Cells transfected with polyinosinic:polycytidylic acid (Poly (I:C)) were also studied as a general model of RNA-type viral infection.

Key findings: Reduced cell number and increased early and late apoptosis were found when expression of viral genes was combined with 1-2 μM CBD treatment, but not in control-transfected cells treated with CBD, or in cells expressing viral genes but treated only with vehicle. In cells expressing viral genes, CBD augmented expression of IFNγ, IFNλ1 and IFNλ2/3, as well as the 2'-5'-oligoadenylate synthetase (OAS) family members OAS1, OAS2, OAS3, and OASL. CBD also augmented expression of these genes in control cells not expressing viral genes, but without enhancing apoptosis. CBD similarly enhanced the cellular anti-viral response to Poly (I:C).

Significance: Our results demonstrate a poor ability of HEK293 cells to respond to SARS-CoV-2 genes alone, but an augmented innate anti-viral response to these genes in the presence of CBD. Thus, CBD may prime components of the innate immune system, increasing readiness to respond to RNA-type viral infection without activating apoptosis, and could be studied for potential in prophylaxis.

Keywords: 2′-5′-oligoadenylate synthetase (OAS) family; Apoptosis; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Innate immunity; Interferons; M protein; ORF10; ORF8; Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

MeSH terms

  • Antiviral Agents
  • Apoptosis
  • COVID-19*
  • Cannabidiol* / pharmacology
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / genetics
  • Interferons / pharmacology
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Poly I-C / pharmacology
  • RNA
  • SARS-CoV-2


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Cannabidiol
  • RNA
  • Interferons
  • Poly I-C