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The cannabinoid system and cytokine network
by Klein TW, Lane B, Newton CA, Friedman H


Many advances have been made in the last few years concerning our understanding of the receptors and ligands composing the cannabinoid system. Likewise, the science surrounding cytokine biology has advanced enabling us to measure these proteins more precisely as well as understand and interpret the meaning of changes in their levels. Scientists wishing to study the health consequences of smoking marijuana as well as understand the possible role of endogenous cannabimimetic ligands in immune regulation have continued to study the influence of these substances on the regulation and development of the cytokine network. Research has shown that two major cannabinoid receptor subtypes exist and that subtype 1 (CB1) is expressed primarily in the brain whereas subtype 2 (CB2) is expressed primarily in the periphery. A variety of ligands for these receptors based on the cannabinoid structure have been synthesized and studied as well as low affinity compounds, noncannabinoid ligands, and endogenous ligands derived from fatty acid eicosanoids. Highly selective receptor antagonists have also been introduced and studied. Synthetic, low affinity ligands such as (+)-HU-211 and DMH-11C have been shown to cause anti-inflammatory effects possibly through inhibiting the production and action of TNF-alpha and other acute phase cytokines. In addition, suppression of TNF and other cytokines such as GM-CSF, IL-6, IFNgamma, and IL-12 has also been seen following exposure to high affinity and psychoactive ligands such as marijuana and THC. However, some of these ligands have also been shown to increase rather than decrease interleukins such as IL-1, IL-4, IL-10, and IL-6, cytokines such as TNF-alpha, and chemokines such as IL-8, MIP-1, and RANTES. The endogenous ligand, anandamide, has been shown in culture to either suppress the proliferation response to prolactin or enhance the response to cytokines such as IL-3 and IL-6. This eicosanoid has also been shown to increase the production of interleukins and other cytokines. Cannabinoid receptors have been shown to be involved in some but not all of these effects. It is clear that psychoactive and nonpsychoactive compounds have demonstrated effects in vivo and in vitro on the production and function of a variety of cytokines. Depending upon the model system, these effects are often conflicting, and the involvement of cannabinoid receptors is unclear. However, enough evidence exists to suggest that the cannabinoid system significantly impacts the functioning of the cytokine network, and this association may provide clues to the mechanisms of certain immune diseases and form the basis for new immunotherapies.

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