Recent studies suggest potential roles of the endocannabinoid system in gastrointestinal inflammation. Although cannabinoid CB2 receptor expression is increased in inflammatory disorders, the presence and function of the remaining proteins of the endocannabinoid system in the colonic tissue is not well characterized.
Cannabinoid CB1 and CB2 receptors, the enzymes for endocannabinoid biosynthesis DAGLα, DAGLβ and NAPE-PLD, and the endocannabinoid-degradating enzymes FAAH and MAGL were analysed in both acute untreated active ulcerative pancolitis and treated quiescent patients in comparison with healthy human colonic tissue by immunocytochemistry. Analyses were carried out according to clinical criteria, taking into account the severity at onset and treatment received.
Western blot and immunocytochemistry indicated that the endocannabinoid system is present in the colonic tissue, but it shows a differential distribution in epithelium, lamina propria, smooth muscle and enteric plexi. Quantification of epithelial immunoreactivity showed an increase of CB2 receptor, DAGLα and MAGL expression, mainly in mild and moderate pancolitis patients. In contrast, NAPE-PLD expression decreased in moderate and severe pancolitis patients. During quiescent pancolitis, CB1, CB2 and DAGLα expression dropped, while NAPE-PLD expression rose, mainly in patients treated with 5-ASA or 5-ASA+corticosteroids. The number of immune cells containing MAGL and FAAH in the lamina propria increased in acute pancolitis patients, but dropped after treatment.
Endocannabinoids signaling pathway, through CB2 receptor, may reduce colitis-associated inflammation suggesting a potential drugable target for the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases.