Cannabinoids ameliorate pain and reduce disease pathology in cerulein-induced acute pancreatitis.
BACKGROUND & AIMS: The functional involvement of the endocannabinoid system in modulation of pancreatic inflammation, such as acute pancreatitis, has not been studied to date. Moreover, the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids in pancreatitis has not been addressed. METHODS: We quantified endocannabinoid levels and expression of cannabinoid receptors 1 and 2 (CB1 and CB2) in pancreas biopsies from patients and mice with acute pancreatitis. Functional studies were performed in mice using pharmacological interventions. Histological examination, serological, and molecular analyses (lipase, myeloperoxidase, cytokines, and chemokines) were performed to assess disease pathology and inflammation. Pain resulting from pancreatitis was studied as abdominal hypersensitivity to punctate von Frey stimuli. Behavioral analyses in the open-field, light-dark, and catalepsy tests were performed to judge cannabinoid-induced central side effects. RESULTS: Patients with acute pancreatitis showed an up-regulation of cannabinoid receptors and elevated levels of endocannabinoids in the pancreas. HU210, a synthetic agonist at CB1 and CB2, abolished abdominal pain associated with pancreatitis and also reduced inflammation and decreased tissue pathology in mice without producing central, adverse effects. Antagonists at CB1- and CB2-receptors were effective in reversing HU210-induced antinociception, whereas a combination of CB1- and CB2-antagonists was required to block the anti-inflammatory effects of HU210 in pancreatitis. CONCLUSIONS: In humans, acute pancreatitis is associated with up-regulation of ligands as well as receptors of the endocannabinoid system in the pancreas. Furthermore, our results suggest a therapeutic potential for cannabinoids in abolishing pain associated with acute pancreatitis and in partially reducing inflammation and disease pathology in the absence of adverse side effects.