Cannabinoid receptors: G-protein-mediated signal transduction mechanisms

Biochem Soc Symp. 1993;59:27-50.


The recent discovery and cloning of cannabinoid receptors has provided a major breakthrough in the understanding of the biochemical mechanisms of action of delta 9-tetrahydrocannibinol (delta 9-THC). Cannabinoid receptors are coupled to G-proteins and inhibit adenylyl cyclase in a variety of systems. In the brain, cannabinoid-inhibited adenylyl cyclase and the receptors are particularly prevalent in the cerebellum, where they are localized to cerebellar granule cells (Fig. 1). In these cells, cannabinoid receptors are co-localized with other Gi/o-linked receptors such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABAB) receptors, where they share common effector systems (adenylyl cyclase catalytic units) but not common G-proteins. This sharing of effectors leads to the phenomenon of receptor convergence, in which agonists of different receptor types can produce the same biological response in certain cells. In cultured hippocampal neurons, cannabinoids also act through G-proteins to increase potassium conductance. In these cells, the predominant electrophysiological response at relatively low (microM) concentrations of cannabinoids is mediated through a voltage-sensitive potassium A current (IA) (Fig. 1). The action of cannabinoid receptors in this system is to shift the voltage sensitivity of IA channels to higher voltage ranges, thus increasing K+ conductance at lower membrane potentials and decreasing the probability of multiple action potentials. When combined with data from other groups showing a cannabinoid receptor-mediated decrease in calcium conductance, along with the unique localization of cannabinoid receptors in the brain, it is clear that these receptor-effector combinations are well situated to mediate many of the well-known neurobiological effects of delta 9-THC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cannabinoids / pharmacology
  • Electrophysiology
  • GTP-Binding Proteins / chemistry
  • GTP-Binding Proteins / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid
  • Receptors, Drug / chemistry
  • Receptors, Drug / drug effects
  • Receptors, Drug / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Cannabinoids
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid
  • Receptors, Drug
  • GTP-Binding Proteins