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Papers of the Week

Papers: 30 Apr 2022 - 6 May 2022

Pharmacology/Drug Development

2022 Apr 29

J Biol Chem

Cannabinoid CB2 receptors are upregulated via bivalent histone modifications and control primary afferent input to the spinal cord in neuropathic pain.


Type-2 cannabinoid receptors (CB2, encoded by the Cnr2 gene) are mainly expressed in immune cells, and CB2 agonists normally have no analgesic effect. However, nerve injury upregulates CB2 in the dorsal root ganglion (DRG), following which CB2 stimulation reduces neuropathic pain. It is unclear how nerve injury increases CB2 expression or how CB2 activity is transformed in neuropathic pain. In this study, immunoblotting showed that spinal nerve ligation (SNL) induced a delayed and sustained increase in CB2 expression in the DRG and dorsal spinal cord synaptosomes. RNAscope in situ hybridization also showed that SNL substantially increased CB2 mRNA levels, mostly in medium and large DRG neurons. Furthermore, we found that the specific CB2 agonist JWH-133 significantly inhibits the amplitude of dorsal root-evoked glutamatergic excitatory postsynaptic currents in spinal dorsal horn neurons in SNL rats, but not in sham control rats; intrathecal injection of JWH-133 reversed pain hypersensitivity in SNL rats, but had no effect in sham control rats. In addition, chromatin immunoprecipitation-qPCR analysis showed that SNL increased enrichment of two activating histone marks (H3K4me3 and H3K9ac) and diminished occupancy of two repressive histone marks (H3K9me2 and H3K27me3) at the Cnr2 promoter in the DRG. In contrast, SNL had no effect on DNA methylation levels around the Cnr2 promoter. Our findings suggest that peripheral nerve injury promotes CB2 expression in primary sensory neurons via epigenetic bivalent histone modifications and that CB2 activation reduces neuropathic pain by attenuating nociceptive transmission from primary afferent nerves to the spinal cord.