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Keywords:

  • behaviour;
  • Δ9-THC;
  • in situ hybridization;
  • nitric oxide;
  • nNOS, knock-out mouse

Abstract

This study investigated whether the nitric oxide pathway was involved in the central effects of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), the major psychoactive constituent of cannabis sativa. Body temperature, nociception and locomotion were measured in neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) knock-out (KO) mice and wild-type (WT) controls after intraperitoneal application of Δ9-THC. These Δ9-THC-induced effects are known to be mediated through the brain-type cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1). Therefore, in situ hybridization (ISH) experiments were performed in the adult murine brain to determine possible changes in CB1 mRNA levels in nNOS-KO, compared with WT mice, and to reveal brain areas where CB1 and nNOS were coexpressed in the same neurons. We found that an intraperitoneal injection of 10 mg/kg Δ9-THC led to the same increase in the hot plate latencies in both genotypes, suggesting that Δ9-THC-mediated antinociception does not involve nNOS. In contrast, a significant Δ9-THC-induced decrease of body temperature and locomotor activity was only observed in WT, but not in nNOS-KO mice. ISH revealed significantly lower levels of CB1 mRNA in the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH) and the caudate putamen (Cpu) of the nNOS-KO animals, compared with WT mice. Both areas are known to be among the regions involved in cannabinoid-induced thermoregulation and decrease of locomotion. A numerical evaluation of nNOS/CB1 coexpression showed that approximately half of the nNOS-positive cells in the dorsolateral Cpu also express low levels of CB1. ISH of adjacent serial sections with CB1 and nNOS, revealed expression of both transcripts in VMH, suggesting that numerous nNOS-positive cells of VMH coexpress CB1. Our findings indicate that the nitric oxide pathway is involved in some, but not all of the central effects of Δ9-THC.