Beneficial paracrine effects of cannabinoid receptor 2 on liver injury and regeneration


  • Potential conflict of interest: Nothing to report.


The cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2) plays a pleiotropic role in innate immunity and is a crucial mediator of liver disease. In this study, we investigated the impact of CB2 receptors on the regenerative process associated with liver injury. Following acute hepatitis induced by carbon tetrachloride (CCl4), CB2 was induced in the nonparenchymal cell fraction and remained undetectable in hepatocytes. Administration of CCl4 to CB2−/− mice accelerated liver injury, as shown by increased alanine/aspartate aminotransferase levels and hepatocyte apoptosis, and delayed liver regeneration, as reflected by a retarded induction of hepatocyte proliferating cell nuclear antigen expression; proliferating cell nuclear antigen induction was also delayed in CB2−/− mice undergoing partial hepatectomy. Conversely, following treatment with the CB2 agonist JWH-133, CCl4-treated WT mice displayed reduced liver injury and accelerated liver regeneration. The CCl4-treated CB2−/− mice showed a decrease in inducible nitric oxide synthase and tumor necrosis factor-α expression, and administration of the nitric oxide donor moldomine (SIN-1) to these animals reduced hepatocyte apoptosis, without affecting liver regeneration. Impaired liver regeneration was consecutive to an interleukin-6 (IL-6)-mediated decrease in matrix metalloproteinase 2 (MMP-2) activity. Indeed, CCl4-treated CB2−/− mice displayed lower levels of hepatic IL-6 messenger RNA and increased MMP-2 activity. Administration of IL-6 to these mice decreased MMP-2 activity and improved liver regeneration, without affecting hepatocyte apoptosis. Accordingly, administration of the MMP inhibitor CTTHWGFTLC to CCl4-treated CB2−/− mice improved liver regeneration. Finally, in vitro studies demonstrated that incubation of hepatic myofibroblasts with JWH-133 increased tumor necrosis factor-α and IL-6 and decreased MMP-2 expressions. Conclusion: CB2 receptors reduce liver injury and promote liver regeneration following acute insult, via distinct paracrine mechanisms involving hepatic myofibroblasts. These results suggest that CB2 agonists display potent hepatoprotective properties, in addition to their antifibrogenic effects. (HEPATOLOGY 2010)