5-Lipoxygenase and anandamide hydrolase (FAAH) mediate the antitumor activity of cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid


Address correspondence and reprint requests to Daniela Parolaro, Department of Structural and Functional Biology, Pharmacology Section, Center of Neuroscience, University of Insubria, Via A. da Giussano 10, Busto Arsizio (VA), Italy. E-mail: daniela.parolaro@uninsubria.it or Mauro Maccarrone, Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Teramo, Piazza A. Moro 45, 64100 Teramo, Italy. E-mail: mmaccarrone@unite.it


It has been recently reported that cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive cannabinoid, is able to kill glioma cells, both in vivo and in vitro, independently of cannabinoid receptor stimulation. However, the underlying biochemical mechanisms were not clarified. In the present study, we performed biochemical analysis of the effect of CBD both in vivo, by using glioma tumor tissues excised from nude mice, and in vitro, by using U87 glioma cells. In vivo exposure of tumor tissues to CBD significantly decreased the activity and content of 5-lipoxygenase (LOX, by ∼ 40%), and of its end product leukotriene B4 (∼ 25%). In contrast cyclooxygenase (COX)-2 activity and content, and the amount of its end product prostaglandin E2, were not affected by CBD. In addition, in vivo treatment with CBD markedly stimulated (∼ 175%) the activity of fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), the main anandamide-degrading enzyme, while decreasing anandamide content (∼ 30%) and binding to CB1 cannabinoid receptors (∼ 25%). In vitro pre-treatment of U87 glioma cells with MK-886, a specific 5-LOX inhibitor, significantly enhanced the antimitotic effect of CBD, whereas the pre-treatment with indomethacin (pan-COX inhibitor) or celecoxib (COX-2 inhibitor), did not alter CBD effect. The study of the endocannabinoid system revealed that CBD was able to induce a concentration-dependent increase of FAAH activity in U87 cells. Moreover, a significantly reduced growth rate was observed in FAAH-over-expressing U87 cells, compared to wild-type controls. In conclusion, the present investigation indicates that CBD exerts its antitumoral effects through modulation of the LOX pathway and of the endocannabinoid system, suggesting a possible interaction of these routes in the control of tumor growth.