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Differential activation of G protein-mediated signalling by synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists

By Shivani Sachdev, Samuel D. Banister, Marina Santiago, Chris Bladen, Michael Kassiou, Mark Connor

Posted 22 Nov 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/850651

Synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (SCRAs) are new psychoactive substances associated with acute intoxication and even death. However, the molecular mechanisms through which SCRAs may exert their toxic effects remain unclear - including the potential differential activation of G protein subtypes by CB1, a major target of SCRA. We measured CB1-mediated activation of Gαs and Gαi/o proteins by SCRAs by examining stimulation (PTX-treated) as well as inhibition (non-PTX treated) of forskolin-induced cAMP accumulation in HEK cells stably expressing CB1. Real-time measurements of stimulation and inhibition of cAMP levels were made using a BRET biosensor. We found that the maximum concentration of SCRAs tested (10 μM), increased cAMP levels 12 to 45% above that produced by forskolin alone, while the phytocannabinoid THC did not significantly alter cAMP levels in PTX-treated HEK-CB1 cells. All SCRAs had greater potency to inhibit of forskolin-induced cAMP levels than to stimulate cAMP levels. The rank order of potencies for SCRA stimulation of cAMP (Gαs) was PB-22 > 5F-MDMB-PICA > JWH-018 > AB-FUBINACA > XLR-11. By contrast, the potency of SCRAs for inhibition of cAMP (Gαi/o) was 5F-MDMB-PICA > AB-FUBINACA > PB-22 > JWH-018 > XLR-11. The different rank order of potency of the SCRAs to stimulate Gαs-like signalling compared to Gαi/o signalling suggests differences in G protein preference between SCRAs. Understanding the apparent differences among these drugs may contribute to unravelling their complex effects in humans.

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