Cannabinoids modulate spontaneous neuronal activity and evoked inhibition of locus coeruleus noradrenergic neurons

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The noradrenergic pathway arising from the locus coeruleus (LC) is involved in the regulation of attention, arousal, cognitive processes and sleep. These physiological activities are affected by Cannabis exposure − both in humans and laboratory animals. In addition, exogenous cannabinoids, as well as pharmacological and genetic manipulation of the endocannabinoid system, are known to influence emotional states (e.g. anxiety) for which a contributory role of the LC-noradrenergic system has long been postulated. However, whether cannabinoid administration would affect the LC neuronal activity in vivo is still unknown. To this end, single-unit extracellular recordings were performed from LC noradrenergic cells in anaesthetized rats. Intravenous injection of both the synthetic cannabinoid agonist, WIN55212-2, and the main psychoactive principle of Cannabis, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, dose-dependently increased the firing rate of LC noradrenergic neurons, with WIN55212-2 being the most efficacious. Similar results were obtained by the administration of these drugs into a lateral ventricle. Cannabinoid-induced stimulation of LC noradrenergic neuronal activity was counteracted by SR141716A, a cannabinoid receptor antagonist/reverse agonist, which by itself slightly reduced LC discharge rate. Moreover, WIN55212-2 suppressed the inhibition of noradrenergic cells produced by stimulation of the major γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic afferent to the LC, the nucleus prepositus hypoglossi. Altogether, these findings suggest the involvement of noradrenergic pathways in some consequences of Cannabis intake (e.g. cognitive and attention deficits, anxiety reactions), as well as a role for cannabinoid receptors in basic brain activities sustaining arousal and emotional states.

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