In silico analyses of the involvement of GPR55, CB1R and TRPV1: response to THC, contribution to temporal lobe epilepsy, structural modeling and updated evolution

Front Neuroinform. 2024 Feb 7:18:1294939. doi: 10.3389/fninf.2024.1294939. eCollection 2024.


Introduction: The endocannabinoid (eCB) system is named after the discovery that endogenous cannabinoids bind to the same receptors as the phytochemical compounds found in Cannabis. While endogenous cannabinoids include anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), exogenous phytocannabinoids include Δ-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). These compounds finely tune neurotransmission following synapse activation, via retrograde signaling that activates cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1R) and/or transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily V member 1 (TRPV1). Recently, the eCB system has been linked to several neurological diseases, such as neuro-ocular abnormalities, pain insensitivity, migraine, epilepsy, addiction and neurodevelopmental disorders. In the current study, we aim to: (i) highlight a potential link between the eCB system and neurological disorders, (ii) assess if THC exposure alters the expression of eCB-related genes, and (iii) identify evolutionary-conserved residues in CB1R or TRPV1 in light of their function.

Methods: To address this, we used several bioinformatic approaches, such as transcriptomic (Gene Expression Omnibus), protein-protein (STRING), phylogenic (BLASTP, MEGA) and structural (Phyre2, AutoDock, Vina, PyMol) analyzes.

Results: Using RNA sequencing datasets, we did not observe any dysregulation of eCB-related transcripts in major depressive disorders, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia in the anterior cingulate cortex, nucleus accumbens or dorsolateral striatum. Following in vivo THC exposure in adolescent mice, GPR55 was significantly upregulated in neurons from the ventral tegmental area, while other transcripts involved in the eCB system were not affected by THC exposure. Our results also suggest that THC likely induces neuroinflammation following in vitro application on mice microglia. Significant downregulation of TPRV1 occurred in the hippocampi of mice in which a model of temporal lobe epilepsy was induced, confirming previous observations. In addition, several transcriptomic dysregulations were observed in neurons of both epileptic mice and humans, which included transcripts involved in neuronal death. When scanning known interactions for transcripts involved in the eCB system (n = 12), we observed branching between the eCB system and neurophysiology, including proteins involved in the dopaminergic system. Our protein phylogenic analyzes revealed that CB1R forms a clade with CB2R, which is distinct from related paralogues such as sphingosine-1-phosphate, receptors, lysophosphatidic acid receptors and melanocortin receptors. As expected, several conserved residues were identified, which are crucial for CB1R receptor function. The anandamide-binding pocket seems to have appeared later in evolution. Similar results were observed for TRPV1, with conserved residues involved in receptor activation.

Conclusion: The current study found that GPR55 is upregulated in neurons following THC exposure, while TRPV1 is downregulated in temporal lobe epilepsy. Caution is advised when interpreting the present results, as we have employed secondary analyzes. Common ancestors for CB1R and TRPV1 diverged from jawless vertebrates during the late Ordovician, 450 million years ago. Conserved residues are identified, which mediate crucial receptor functions.

Keywords: CB1R; TRPV1; bioinformatics; endocannabinoid system; evolution; phylogenetic tree; protein structure; transcriptomics.

Grants and funding

The author(s) declare financial support was received for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. This study was funded by the University of Worcester, grants SSE2206 (to MDM) and ROFF22234MDM (to MDM).