Despite pharmacological treatment, bronchial hyperresponsiveness continues to deteriorate as airway remodelling persists in airway inflammation. Previous studies have demonstrated that the phytocannabinoid Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) reverses bronchoconstriction with an anti-inflammatory action. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of THC on bronchial epithelial cell permeability after exposure to the pro-inflammatory cytokine, TNFα.
Calu-3 bronchial epithelial cells were cultured at air-liquid interface. Changes in epithelial permeability were measured using Transepithelial Electrical Resistance (TEER), then confirmed with a paracellular permeability assay and expression of tight junction proteins by Western blotting.
Treatment with THC prevented the TNFα-induced decrease in TEER and increase in paracellular permeability. Cannabinoid CB1 and CB2 receptor-like immunoreactivity was found in Calu-3 cells. Subsequent experiments revealed that pharmacological blockade of CB2, but not CB1 receptor inhibited the THC effect. Selective stimulation of CB2 receptors displayed a similar effect to that of THC. TNFα decreased expression of the tight junction proteins occludin and ZO-1, which was prevented by pre-incubation with THC.
These data indicate that THC prevents cytokine-induced increase in airway epithelial permeability through CB2 receptor activation. This highlights that THC, or other cannabinoid receptor ligands, could be beneficial in the prevention of inflammation-induced changes in airway epithelial cell permeability, an important feature of airways diseases.