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 cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1), a major target of SCRA. We measured CB1-mediated activation of Gαs and Gαi/o proteins by SCRAs by examining stimulation (pertussis toxin, PTX treated) as well as inhibition (non-PTX treated) of forskolin (FSK)-induced cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) accumulation in human embryonic kidney (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 µmol L-1 ), increased cAMP levels 12%-45% above that produced by FSK alone, while the phytocannabinoid THC did not significantly alter cAMP levels in PTX-treated HEK-CB1 cells. All SCRAs had greater potency to inhibit FSK-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 and EMax of the SCRAs to stimulate Gαs -like signaling compared to Gαi/o signaling 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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- cannabinoid receptor
- G protein
- synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonist