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European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences 2015; 19: 4906-4919

Purified Cannabidiol, the main non-psychotropic

component of Cannabis sativa, alone,
counteracts neuronal apoptosis
in experimental multiple sclerosis
Experimental Neurology Laboratory, IRCCS Centre Neurolesi Bonino-Pulejo, Messina, Italy
Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Eastern Piedmont, Novara, Italy
Council for Research and Experimentation in Agriculture - Research Centre for Industrial Crops
(CRA-CIN), Rovigo, Italy.

Abstract. OBJECTIVE: Multiple Sclerosis Key Words:

(MS) is a global concern disease leading to a Apoptosis, Experimental multiple sclerosis, Non-psy-
progressive, chronic and demyelinating condi- chotropic cannabinoid, Cannabidiol, Mitochondrial per-
tion, affecting the central nervous system (CNS). meability.
The pathology has an inflammatory/autoimmune
origin; nevertheless, neuronal cell death mecha-
nisms are not to be underestimated. The present
study was designed to test the effects of in-
traperitoneal administration of cannabidiol Introduction
(CBD), the main non-psychotropic cannabinoid
of Cannabis sativa (CS), in an experimental mod- Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a demyelinating
el of MS. The aim is to evaluate the capability of disease mostly of autoimmune origin that af-
CBD administration to thwart the cascade of me- fects and damages CNS, leading to a disabling
diators involved in MS-induced apoptosis.
condition 1. In particular, myelin sheath loss
Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis (EAE) was in- causes a severe impairment of nerve signal
duced by immunization with myelin oligoden- transmission between the brain and spinal
droglial glycoprotein (MOG)35-55 peptide in mice. cord2. Actually, 2.3 million individuals are liv-
After immunization, mice were observed daily for ing with MS. According to data released by
signs of EAE and weight loss. Disease signs were National Multiple Sclerosis Society, published
evaluated using a standardized scoring system. in 2013 and relative to the year 2009, there
RESULTS: Immunohistochemical and Western
blot assessments of key apoptotic markers re- were about 10.400 cases/year with an incidence
veal that CBD treatment is able to avoid Fas of 3.6 women/100.000 and 2.0 men/100.0003.
pathway activation, phospho-ERK p42/44 and Currently, pharmacological management of MS
cleaved caspase-3 triggering as well as alter- is in relationship with the course of the pathol-
ations in mitochondrial permeability due to ogy. For the treatment of the so-classified re-
Bax/Bcl-2 unbalance. Moreover, CBD interferes lapsing-remitting MS (RRMS), to date disease
with p53-p21 axis activation. As results, the ab-
sence of tissue apobody formation in spinal cord
modifying therapies (DMT) are adopted. They
tissues of EAE-mice treated with CBD was estab- consist of immunomodulatory drugs, primarily
lished. Most of therapeutic properties of CS are belonging to IFN- class, specifically IFN- 1a
currently ascribed to the psychotropic effects of (Avonex, Rebif ) and IFN- 1b (Betaseron,
phenylterpenoid delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol. Extavia). Recent trials are aimed at the possi-
CONCLUSIONS: We have demonstrated that, ble introduction of teriflunomide (Aubagio )
alone, purified CBD possesses an anti-apoptot- and dimethyl fumarate (Tecfidera) looking at
ic power against the neurodegenerative
processes underlying MS development. This their efficacy in comparison with another drug
represents an interesting new profile of CBD prescribed for the treatment of RRMS, the
that could lead to its introduction in the clinical glatiramer acetate (Copaxone ) 4, a synthetic
management of MS. analogue of myelin basic protein5. When highly

4906 Corresponding Author: Emanuela Mazzon, Ph.D; e-mail:

CBD counteracts apoptosis in experimental model of MS

active MS patients present more and more re- may result from THC consumption. Ultimately,
lapse episodes, the first line drug indicated is this is nothing more than the price that CBD,
the recombinant humanized natalizumab the major non-psychoactive component, pays
(Tysabri ), a selective adhesion-molecule in- remaining in the shadow of THC. Several ex-
hibitor monoclonal antibody against the inte- perimental studies have shown that CBD pos-
grin very late antigen-4 (VLA-4), used as sesses many properties15, often wrongly attrib-
monotherapy to delay progression of disabili- uted by collective imagination just to THC
ty6. Sadly, the risk of contracting the John Cun- alone and wide experimental evidences demon-
ningham virus (JCV) is high, especially after strated that isolating non-psychotropic com-
long treatments7. In this scenario, the new fron- pounds by THC component provide beneficial
tiers of the pharmacology look at the use of effects for therapeutic use, mostly for CNS dis-
complementary and alternative medicine8,9, to orders16. Actually, all cannabinoids have a wide
counteract, if not the disease progression, at antioxidant and neuroprotective action 17 . In
least MS symptoms that are based on the af- particular, antitumoral activity of CBD mediat-
fected CNS area and that, for their plurality and ed by the triggering of apoptotic mechanisms is
variety, can require a multidisciplinary man- not so overly declared, but not even a mys-
agement10. Overall, symptoms can include mo- tery18. CBD exerts its effects via both the inter-
tor control deficit (spasms and spasticity, action with cannabinoids receptor 1 and 2 (CB1
weakness, impaired coordination, balance and and CB2 receptors, canonical cannabinoid re-
functioning of the arms and legs); altered sensi- ceptor pathway) and activating other receptor-
tivity of the limbs; neurological symptoms independent channels and by binding with vari-
(vertigo, pins and needles, neuralgia and visual ous non-cannabinoid receptors (such as PPARs,
disturbances; neurological bladder (inconti- transient receptor potential vanilloid type 1
nence and constipation); as well as neuropsy- (TRPV1), GPR55, GPR18, GPR119 and 5-hy-
chological symptoms (memory loss, depres- droxytryptamine receptor subtype 1A (5-
sion). Moreover, a sense of loss of identity is HT1A)19.
the direct consequence of physical changes and In our study, we decided to investigate not in
functional limitations11. the wake of other authors20, the well known and
Medicinal plants are the most ancient re- assessed anti-inflammatory effect of CBD21,22,
source of the history in the treatment of various but rather its capability to avoid programmed
diseases12. An example is given by Cannabis cell death in the spinal cord of animal affected
sativa (CS) rich in terpenophenolic con- by experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis
stituents12. CS therapeutic use is a controversial (EAE), a model induced by Myelin Oligoden-
open question which goes far beyond mere drocyte Glycoprotein (MOG)35-55 peptide injec-
campaign on the legalization of marijuana13. In tion and validated to reproduce human MS in
this regard it is noteworthy to consider the re- mice23. By examining this profile of CBD, we
cent introduction of Sativex , a cannabinoid strongly hope to provide new evidences about
oromucosal spray containing a 1:1 ratio of the the efficacy of the molecule and to contribute
phenylterpenoid delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol into delineating a clearer profile of the com-
(THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), the two major pound so that its use should be extended to this
components of CS 14, for the management of as well as other pathologies with similar symp-
symptomatic treatment of chronic pain and toms.
spasticity. Despite this combination has been
approved and in the current state introduced in
several countries under this formulation, over Materials and Methods
the years the point of view of the scientific
community regarding THC and CBD is Plant Material
changed. In particular, the dichotomy between Cannabis sativa L, derived from greenhouse
psychotropic and non-psychotropic effects have cultivation at CRA-CIN, Rovigo (Italy), was col-
been stressed and the most fervent supporters lected in November 2013. The isolation and ma-
for the introduction of CS in clinical practice nipulation of cannabinoids was done in accor-
look at the beneficial phytochemicals proper- dance with their legal status (Authorization
ties that could derive by CBD isolation rather SP/106 23/05/2013 of the Ministry of Health,
than to side possible hallucinogenic effects that Rome, Italy).

S. Giacoppo, T. Soundara Rajan, M. Galuppo, F. Pollastro, G. Grassi, P. Bramanti, E. Mazzon

Extraction and Isolation of CBD Experimental Design

Pure CBD (>99%) was isolated from an Italian Mice were randomly allocated into the follow-
variety of industrial hemp (Carmagnola) accord- ing groups (n= 45 total animals):
ing to a standardized method of the cannabinoid Naive group (n=10): mice did not receive
purification24 to avoid any trace of THC that could (MOG)35-55 or other treatment.
interfere in the trial or cause legal limitation. EAE group (n=20): mice subjected to EAE that
received only the vehicle of the pharmacologi-
Animals cal treatment (1:1:8 EtOH:Tween 20:saline);
Male C57BL/6 mice (Harlan Milan, Italy) 12 EAE + CBD treatment group (n=15): starting
weeks of age and weighing 20-25g were housed from the occurring of first signs of disease
in individually ventilated cages with food and (14th day onset), EAE mice were daily subject-
water ad libitum. The room was maintained at a ed to CBD treatment (10 mg/kg i.p.);
constant temperature and humidity on a 12 h/12 CBD-vehicle control group (n=10) mice that
h light/dark cycle. did not receive (MOG)35-55 but only CBD vehi-
cle as control of the treatment.
Ethical Approval At the 28th day from EAE-induction, animals
This study was carried out in strict accordance were euthanized with i.p. of Tanax (5 ml/kg body
with the recommendations in the guide for the weight). In addition, spinal cord tissues were
care and use of laboratory animals of Italian Na- sampled and processed in order to evaluate para-
tional Institutes of Health. The protocol was ap- meters of disease.
proved by the Ministry of Health General Di-
rection of animal health and veterinary drug Clinical Disease Score
(Authorization 150/2014-B 28/03/2014). In par- The first measurement of clinical disease score
ticular, animal care was in compliance with na- was taken on the day of EAE- induction (day ze-
tional regulations on protection of animals used ro), the second after 4 days and all subsequent
for experimental and other scientific purposes measurements were recorded every 48 hours un-
(D.M. 116/92) as well as with the EEC regula- til sacrifice. Briefly, the signs of EAE were
tions (O.J. of E.C.L 358/1 12/18/1986). In addi- scored using a standardized scoring system25 as
tion, minimized number of animals were used for follows: 0=no signs; 1=partial flaccid tail;
the experiment and their suffering. 2=complete flaccid tail; 3=hind limb hypotonia;
4=partial hind limb paralysis; 5=complete hind
Induction of Experimental Autoimmune limb paralysis; 6=moribund or dead animal. Ani-
Encephalomyelitis (EAE) mals with a score 5 were sacrificed to avoid
After anaesthesia, induced with an anaesthet- animal suffering. The measure of clinical disease
ic cocktail composed of tiletamine plus xy- score has been expressed as mean SEM of all
lazine (10 ml/kg, i.p.), EAE was actively in- measurements of each experimental group.
duced using (MOG)35-55 peptide (MEVGWYR-
SPFSRVVHLYRNGK; % peak area by HPLC Body Weight Evaluation
95, AnaSpec, EGT Corporate Headquarters, The first measurement of body weight was taken
Fremont, CA, USA). Mice were immunized on the day of EAE-induction (day zero), the second
subcutaneously with 300 l/flank of the emul- after 4 days and all subsequent measurements were
sion consisting of 300 g of (MOG)35-55 in PBS recorded every 48 hours until sacrifice. The daily
mixed with an equal volume of Complete Fre- variation of body weight has been expressed com-
unds Adjuvant (CFA) containing 300 g heat- pared to day of EAE induction (day zero), also the
killed Mycobacterium tuberculosis H37Ra value day has been expressed as mean SEM of all
(Difco Laboratories, Sparks, MD, USA). Im- animals for each experimental group.
mediately after (MOG) 35-55 injection, the ani-
mals received 100 l of Bordetella pertussis Needle Test
toxin (Sigma-Aldrich, Milan, Italy) (500 The test was aimed to assess mices respon-
ng/100 l, i.p), repeated 48 h later. The disease siveness to a mechanical stimulus. Each animal
follows a course of progressive degeneration, was subjected to 3 stimuli on the plantar surface
with visible signs of pathology consisting of of the hindpaw with several seconds between ap-
flaccidity of the tail and loss of motion of the plications of needle. A positive response is a paw
hind legs. withdrawal from the stimulus. The maximum

CBD counteracts apoptosis in experimental model of MS

score has a value of 6. In specific, 7 tests were mM EGTA, 2 mM EDTA, 5 mM NaN3, 10 mM 2-

performed every 48 hours in two weeks from the mercaptoethanol, 50 mM NaF, protease inhibitor
first administration of CBD. The values are ex- tablets (Roche Applied Science, Monza, Italy), and
pressed as mean SEM of each group. they were homogenized at the highest setting for 2
min. The homogenates were chilled on ice for 15
Immunohistochemical (IHC) Evaluation min and then centrifuged at 1000g for 10 min at
After deparaffinization with xylene, sections 4C, and the supernatant (cytosol extract) was col-
of spinal cord samples were hydrated. Detection lected to evaluate content of citoplasmatic proteins.
of Fas-Ligand, Bax, Bcl-2 was carried out after The pellets were suspended in the supplied com-
boiling in citrate buffer 0.01 M pH 6 for 4 min. plete lysis buffer containing 1% Triton X-100, 150
Endogenous peroxidase was quenched with 0.3% mM NaCl, 10 mM Tris-HCl, pH 7.4, 1 mM EG-
(v/v) hydrogen peroxide in 60% (v/v) methanol TA, 1 mM EDTA protease inhibitors (Roche), and
for 30 min. Nonspecific adsorption was mini- then were centrifuged for 30 min at 15.000 g at
mized by incubating the section in 2% (v/v) nor- 4C. Then, supernatant containing nuclear extract
mal goat serum in PBS for 20 min. was collected to evaluate the content of nuclear
Sections were incubated overnight with: proteins. Supernatants were stored at -80C until
Anti-FAS-Ligand polyclonal antibody (1:100 use. Protein concentration in homogenate was esti-
in PBS v/v; Abcam, Cambridge, MA, USA) mated by Bio-Rad Protein Assay (Bio-Rad, Seg-
Anti-Bax polyclonal antibody (1:100 in PBS rate, Italy) using bovine serum albumine (BSA) as
v/v; Santa Cruz Biotechnology, Inc., Santa standard, and 20 g of cytosol and nuclear extract
Cruz, CA, USA); from each sample were analyzed.
Anti-Bcl-2 polyclonal antibody (1:100 in PBS Proteins were separated on sodium dodecyl sul-
v/v; Santa Cruz Biotechnology, Inc); fate-polyacrylamide minigels and transferred onto
Endogenous biotin or avidin binding sites PVDF membranes (Immobilon-P Transfer mem-
were blocked by sequential incubation for 15 brane, Millipore), blocked with PBS containing 5%
min with biotin and avidin (DBA, Milan, Italy), nonfat dried milk (PM) for 45 min at room temper-
respectively. Sections were washed with PBS ature, and subsequently probed at 4C overnight
and incubated with secondary antibody. Specific with specific antibodies for phospho-ERK p42/44
labelling was detected with a biotin-conjugated (1:1000; Cell Signaling Technology, Boston, MA,
goat anti-rabbit IgG and avidin-biotin peroxidase USA), ERK2 (1:2000; Cell Signaling Technology),
complex (Vectastain ABC kit, Vector, cleaved-caspase 3 (1:500; Cell Signaling Technolo-
Burlingame, CA, USA). The immunostaining gy), caspase-3 (1:500; Cell Signaling Technology),
(positivity in brown color) was developed with p21 (1:1000; Merck Millipore) and p53 (1:2000;
peroxidase substrate kit DAB (Vector Laborato- Abcam) in 1x phosphate buffered saline (PBS), 5%
ries, Inc.), while the counterstaining with May- (w/v) non fat dried milk, 0.1% Tween-20 (PMT).
ers hemalum solution (blue background). HRP-conjugated goat anti-rabbit IgG was incubated
To verify the binding specificity, some sec- as secondary antibody (1:2000; Santa Cruz
tions were also incubated with only the primary Biotechnology Inc., Santa Cruz, CA, USA) for 1 h
antibody (no secondary) or with only the sec- at room temperature. To ascertain that blots were
ondary antibody (no primary). In these cases no loaded with equal amounts of protein lysates, they
positive staining was found in the sections, indi- were also incubated with antibody for GAPDH
cating that the immunoreaction was positive in HRP Conjugated (1:1000; Cell Signaling Technol-
all the experiments carried out. ogy) and beta-actin (1:1000; Santa Cruz Biotech-
All sections were obtained using light mi- nology, Inc). The relative expression of protein
croscopy (Leica DM 2000 combined with Leica bands has been visualized using an enhanced
ICC50 HD camera, Wetzlar, Germany). Leica chemiluminescence system (Luminata Western
Application Suite V4.2.0 software was used as HRP Substrates, Millipore, Billerica, MA, USA)
image computer program to acquire IHC pictures. and protein bands were acquired and quantified
with ChemiDoc MP System (Bio-Rad) and a
Western Blot Analysis computer program (ImageJ software) respectively.
All the extraction procedures were performed on Blots are representative of three separate and
ice using ice-cold reagents. In brief, spinal cord tis- reproducible experiments. The statistical analysis
sues were suspended in extraction buffer contain- was carried out on three repeated blots per-
ing 0.32 M sucrose, 10 mM Tris-HCl, pH 7.4, 1 formed on separate experiments.

S. Giacoppo, T. Soundara Rajan, M. Galuppo, F. Pollastro, G. Grassi, P. Bramanti, E. Mazzon

TUNEL Assay paw sensibility in EAE-affected mice with sig-

To test whether in EAE model spinal cord nificant score levels.
was associated with cell death by apoptosis, we
measured TUNEL-like staining in the perile- CBD Treatment is Able to Modulate
sional spinal cord tissue. TUNEL assay was Apoptotic Pathway Triggering via
conducted by using a TUNEL detection kit ac- Fas Pathway Modulation
cording to the manufacturers instruction To evaluate upstream-enhanced apoptotic
(Apotag, HRP kit DBA, Milan, Italy). Sections mechanisms we looked at processes mediated
were incubated with 15 mg/ml proteinase K for by the signal cascade triggered by FAS-ligand.
15 min at room temperature and then washed IHC localization of spinal cord sections for
with PBS. Endogenous peroxidase was inacti- FAS-Ligand has shown a marked immunoposi-
vated by 3% H2O2 for 5 min at room tempera- tivity in untreated EAE mice (Figure 3 c) com-
ture and then washed with PBS. Sections were paring to animal that under the same conditions
immersed in terminal deoxynucleotidyltrans- received the intraperitoneal CBD treatment
ferase (TdT) buffer containing deoxynucleotidyl (Figure 3 d). Nave mice (Figure 3 b) and mice
transferase and biotinylated dUTP, incubated in that were administrated with the CBD-vehicle
a humid atmosphere at 37C for 1 h, and then alone (Figure 3 a) resulted negative for FAS-
washed with PBS. Sections were incubated at ligand. Moreover, statistical analysis estab-
room temperature for 30 min with anti-horse- lished significant differences between EAE
radish peroxidase-conjugated antibody, and the group and all other experimental groups (see
signals were visualized with diaminobenzidine densitometric analysis, Figure 3 e).
(DAB) and controstained with nuclear fast blue.
CBD Treatment Controls Cascade of
Statistical Analysis Mediators Involved in Apoptosis
GraphPad Prism version 6.0 program (Graph- Western blot analysis for phospho-ERK
Pad Software, La Jolla, CA, USA) was used for p42/44 revealed that Mitogen-Activated Protein
statistical analysis of the data. The results were Kinases (MAPK) signaling pathway is strongly
statistically analyzed using one-way ANOVA activated following EAE-induction while CBD
followed by a Bonferroni post hoc test for multi- treatment reduces the expression levels of this
ple comparisons. A p value less than or equal to marker (Figure 4 a, see densitometric analysis b).
0.05 was considered significant. Results are ex- Since ERK activity has been clearly and wide-
pressed as the mean SEM of n experiments. ly implicated in the releasing of classical markers
of apoptosis execution, such as effector caspase-
326, we evaluated the degree of caspase 3 activa-
Results tion via detection of cleaved-caspase 3 expres-
sion levels. Treatment with CBD inhibits this
CBD Treatment Ameliorates General marker that, conversely, results highly expressed
Wellness in EAE-Affected Mice in untreated EAE mice (Figure 4 c, see densito-
Body weight measurement (Figure 1 a) as well metric analysis d).
as Clinical Disease Score (Figure 1 b) evaluation
were assessed as parameters of disease. In both CBD Treatment Avoids Bax/Bcl-2
cases, CBD-treated EAE-affected mice show a Unbalance.
trend of recovery over time compared to untreat- Spinal cord tissues sampled by untreated EAE
ed EAE mice, in particular following the disease mice display high positivity for Bax and negative
onset (fifth measurement) and until sacrifice. staining for Bcl-2 leading to believe that mecha-
Mice belonging to vehicle CBD and naive group nism of mitochondrial altered permeability are
have a normal increase in body weight as well as primed in these animals (Figures 5 c and 6 c, re-
absence of motor deficit. spectively). Conversely, intraperitoneal adminis-
tration of CBD inhibits the above cited alter-
Needle test to Evaluate paw Sensibility ations. In fact, IHC localization for Bax/Bcl-2 re-
EAE development leads untreated mice to a veals that in CBD-treated EAE mice these mark-
constant loss of paw sensibility measured (Figure ers are more targeted towards anti-apoptotic
2) since the disease onset until sacrifice. Con- mechanisms showing higher Bcl-2 (Figure 6 d)
versely, CBD-treatment preserves a degree of than Bax immunopositivity (Figure 5 d) as well

CBD counteracts apoptosis in experimental model of MS

Figure 1. CBD-treated EAE-injured mice display body weight and motor function recovery. A measure of disease degree is
the evaluation of body weight (a) and of the disability score (b). For both parameters CBD-treated mice show high significant
recovery when compared with untreated EAE mice, in particular following the disease onset (fifth measurement) and until sac-
rifice. A p value < 0.05 was considered significant. vs. NAIVE; #vs. VEHICLE CTR.

as in vehicle-control (Figures 6 a and 5 a, respec- CBD Regulates p53-p21 Axis Activation

tively) and nave groups (Figures 6 b and 5 b, re- About downstream nuclear mechanisms of
spectively). For both Bax and Bcl-2, a quantita- apoptosis Western blot analysis revealed that
tive analysis of the immunopositivity was per- there are very high expression levels of the tran-
formed in all experimental groups as showed in scription factor p53 in untreated EAE mice
Figures 5 e and 6 e, respectively. (Figure 7 a, see densitometric analysis b), that,

S. Giacoppo, T. Soundara Rajan, M. Galuppo, F. Pollastro, G. Grassi, P. Bramanti, E. Mazzon

in turn, activates and stimulates the overexpres- CBD Treatment, Interfering with the
sion of p21 (Figure 7 c, see densitometric analy- Activation of Several Mediators
sis d). CBD treatment in EAE mice reverses this Thwarts Neuronal Cell Death
panel decreasing p53 and p21 at levels compa- Finally, TUNEL assay revealed that all dis-
rable with vehicle-control (Figure 7 a, see den- played cellular mechanisms of apoptosis are
sitometric analysis b and c, see densitometric translated in a marked presence of apobodies
analysis d, respectively) and nave groups (Fig- (mean of 337.5 positive nuclei/field, positive
ure 7 a, see densitometric analysis b and c, see staining control Figure 8 e) in untreated EAE
densitometric analysis d respectively). mice (Figure 8 c) that, conversely are wholly ab-

Figure 2. CBD treatment preserves paw sensibility. Behavioral test aimed to evaluate the loss of paw sensibility caused by
disease development. Needle test clearly shows that CBD-treated EAE mice keep a higher and significant sensitivity of the
lower limbs when compared with untreated CBD mice that following the disease onset (14th from disease induction, first test
measurement) display a total loss of response to any needle solicitation. A p value < 0.05 was considered significant. vs. CBD

CBD counteracts apoptosis in experimental model of MS

Figure 3. CBD-treatment interferes with Fas pathway. IHC evaluation of apoptotic pathways modulated by CBD- treatment
display that untreated EAE mice result highly positive to Fas-Ligand staining (c). Conversely, sections sampled by CBD-treat-
ed EAE mice (d), vehicle CBD (a) as well as naive (b) groups result completely negative for this marker. A densitometric
analysis of the result is provided in e. A p value * < 0.05 was considered significant. (20x).

sent in CBD-treated EAE mice (Figure 8 d) as can, Bedrobinol, Bediol) to treat MS symp-
well as in vehicle-control (Figure 8 a) and nave toms. For example, experimental studies reveal
groups (Figure 8 b). that activation of cannabinoid CB2 receptors
by JWH-133, a synthetic cannabinoid, reduces
hyperalgesia in EAE-affected mice29. These ef-
Discussion fects can be the result of the specific and selec-
tive CB1/CB2 receptors activation by cannabi-
MS is a complex, chronic, progressive neu- noids (natural and synthetic) or non-classic re-
rodegenerative disease with a wide range of ceptor ligands30 (one receptor class, many ago-
outcome and symptoms classified as primary, nists) as well as the effect of cannabinoid bind-
secondary, or tertiary27. In this regard, CS is ex- ing to the receptors other than CB1/CB2 recep-
perimentally demonstrated to limit neurodegen- tors (one agonist class/many receptor classes).
eration that leads to progressive disability28 as The present work was designed to define a new
well as cannabinoids are commercially avail- profile of CBD, the main non psychotropic
able and currently introduced in the clinical compound present in CS, whose intrinsic po-
practice in different percentage and formula- tential as a molecule with a therapeutic effect
tions with THC (i.e. Sativex as well as Bedro- has not yet completely understood. In fact, it is

S. Giacoppo, T. Soundara Rajan, M. Galuppo, F. Pollastro, G. Grassi, P. Bramanti, E. Mazzon

Figure 4. CBD-treatment modulates phospho-ERK p42/44 and cleaved-caspase 3 expression. Western blot analysis to evalu-
ate phospho-ERK p42/44 level expression (a, densitometric analysis b) displays that untreated EAE-affected mice have the
highest protein levels. Conversely, CBD-treated EAE mice, vehicle CBD as well as naive groups show significant lower phos-
pho-ERK p42/44 expression levels. ERK p42 was used to normalize the signal. A p value *< 0.05 was considered significant.
Parallel, cleaved-caspase 3 detection (c, densitometric analysis d) reveals that tissue homogenates sampled by untreated EAE-
affected mice contain high levels of this marker. Conversely, CBD-treated EAE mice, vehicle CBD as well as naive groups
show significant cleaved-caspase 3 lower expression levels. Caspase 3 was used to normalize the signal. A p value *< 0.05
was considered significant.

well known that CBD exerts anti-inflammatory rosis31. An indirect measure of Fas activation
properties, reducing the generation of pro-in- has been here provided by assessment of Fas-
flammatory cytokines (such as TNF- and IL- Ligand detection. This step was considered by
1) as well as reacting oxygen species19, never- us as the first evidence about the possible anti-
theless, to date little or nothing has been deep- apoptotic power of CBD that has proved able to
ened about its anti-apoptotic power. In particu- avoid the releasing of this key-mediator. More-
lar, our study was aimed to highlight these un- over, since the Fas pathway is closely linked to
derestimated properties of CBD. In this per- the intrinsic pathway of apoptosis, it was inter-
spective, our present data are encouraging. esting to investigate the Bcl-2 family proteins,
Verified the high presence of apobodies fol- regulating the integrity of the outer mitochon-
lowing EAE degeneration, we have further in- drial membrane permeability 32. Mitochondria
vestigated the processes leading to CBD neu- are the powerhouse of all cells and their in-
ronal protection. The mechanism by which tegrity is the core for the regulation of cell sur-
CBD counteracts neuronal death is not fully vival33, directing cell balance towards survival
known. However, by evaluating the main medi- or death signals. Moreover, Rimmerman et al34
ators of both intrinsic and extrinsic apoptotic showed that CBD directly modulates the outer
pathway, we can summarize with some confi- mitochondrial membrane channel as an agonist
dence that CBD can interfere, modulating of voltage-dependent anion channel 1
them, processes underlying the programmed (VDAC1), involved in functioning of cell ener-
cell death mechanism. Fas cell surface recep- gy, metabolic homeostasis and apoptosis.
tor, belonging to TNF receptor superfamily, Clinical studies35 showed that RRMS patients
has been widely recognized to have a role in display aberrant expression analysis of apopto-
transducing apoptotic signals in multiple scle- sis-related genes. Nevertheless, our achieved re-

CBD counteracts apoptosis in experimental model of MS

Figure 5. CBD-treatment counteracts alteration of mitochondrial permeability avoiding Bax overexpression. IHC staining for
Bax localization displays a high immunopositivity in sections sampled by untreated EAE-affected mice (c), when compare
with CBD-treated EAE mice (d), vehicle CBD (a) as well as naive groups (b). A densitometric analysis of the result is provid-
ed in e. A p value *< 0.05 was considered significant. (20x).

sults indicate that mitochondrial maintenance the caspase 3 cleavage to the involvement of
was preserved by CBD treated EAE-mice with a CB1, CB2, TRPV1 or PPAR receptors, but
greater tendency to release anti-apoptotic (Bcl-2) rather to and activity independent by classical
than pro-apoptotic factors (Bax). Parallel, look- and alternative cannabinoid receptors37. CBD has
ing at the extrinsic pathway of apoptosis, we re- demonstrated to avoid upstream triggering of
ceived a further confirm about the preservation MAPK pathway, serine/threonine protein kinas-
of cell survival mediated by CBD administration. es, which play pivotal roles regulating many cell
In this, a central role is covered by the lacking of functions in different cell types38. Finally, we in-
cleaved-caspase 3 activation, a classic hallmark vestigated the possible role of p53, an important
of apoptosis-induction of particular importance transcription factor of genes such as p21, strong-
for oligodendrocyte death in multiple sclerosis36. ly involved in processes both of cell proliferation
This data has been an object of study for other and death39. Corroborating p53 role promoting
authors in a paper where they did not attribute p21 transactivation, EAE-affected mice display

S. Giacoppo, T. Soundara Rajan, M. Galuppo, F. Pollastro, G. Grassi, P. Bramanti, E. Mazzon

Figure 6. CBD-treatment counteracts alteration of mitochondrial permeability avoiding Bcl-2 unbalance. IHC localization for
Bcl-2 displays a negative staining in sections sampled by untreated EAE-affected mice (c). Conversely, CBD-treated EAE
mice (d), vehicle CBD (a) as well as naive groups (b) result positive for this marker. A densitometric analysis of the result is
provided in e. A p value *< 0.05 was considered significant. (20x).

high expression levels of these markers that, con- ture about the overall role of cannabinoids in the
versely, result downregulated following CBD treatment of neurodegenerative diseases19,40. In
treatment. our view, considering its evident therapeutic ben-
efits, the barriers, largely mental, about the intro-
duction of CS, and especially of CBD formula-
Conclusions tion, in clinical practice, should be torn down.
Of course, further studies should be performed
Summarizing the CBD activity on the apoptot- to isolate and characterize the non-psychotropic
ic pathway, we strongly hope to have provided a, component of the plant, among all mostly the
short but significant roundup of evidences that CBD, that, as we showed in the present work,
are useful to better characterize the efficacy as alone, possesses very interesting pharmacologi-
well as the molecular pathways modulated by the cal properties into counteracting the cascade of
molecule. Currently, there is an extended litera- mediators leading to neuronal cell death in MS.

CBD counteracts apoptosis in experimental model of MS

Figure 7. CBD-treatment inhibits p53/p21 activation. Western blot analysis to evaluate p53 level expression (a, densitometric
analysis b) displays that untreated EAE-affected mice have the highest protein levels. Conversely, CBD-treated EAE mice, ve-
hicle CBD as well as naive groups show significant lower p53 expression levels. A p value *< 0.05 was considered significant.
Parallel, p21 detection (c, densitometric analysis d) reveals that tissue homogenates sampled by untreated EAE-affected mice
contain high levels of this marker. Conversely, CBD-treated EAE mice show significant lower expression levels. Vehicle CBD
as well as naive groups have totally negative p21 expression levels. A p value *< 0.05 was considered significant.

Figure 8. CBD avoids the formation of neuronal apobodies.

TUNEL assay reveals presence of apobodies (positive stain-
ing control e) in untreated EAE mice (c) that, conversely, are
wholly absent in CBD-treated EAE mice (d) as well as in ve-
hicle-CBD (a) and naive groups (b). (20x).

S. Giacoppo, T. Soundara Rajan, M. Galuppo, F. Pollastro, G. Grassi, P. Bramanti, E. Mazzon


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