The psychoactive substance of cannabis Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) negatively regulates CFTR in airway cells

Publication date: September 2018
Source:Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) – General Subjects, Volume 1862, Issue 9
Author(s): Sheng-Wei Chang, Jack Wellmerling, Xiaoli Zhang, Rachael E. Rayner, Wissam Osman, Sara Mertz, Amal O. Amer, Mark E. Peeples, Prosper N. Boyaka, Estelle Cormet-Boyaka
BackgroundMarijuana consumption is on the rise in the US but the health benefits of cannabis smoking are controversial and the impact of cannabis components on lung homeostasis is not well-understood. Lung function requires a fine regulation of the ion channel CFTR, which is responsible for fluid homeostasis and mucocilliary clearance. The goal of this study was to assess the effect that exposure to Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive substance present in marijuana, has on CFTR expression and function.MethodsCultures of human bronchial epithelial cell line 16HBE14o- and primary human airway epithelial cells were exposed to THC. The expression of CFTR protein was determined by immunoblotting and CFTR function was measured using Ussing chambers. We also used specific pharmacological inhibitors of EGFR and ERK to determine the role of this pathway in THC-induced regulation of CFTR.ResultsTHC decreased CFTR protein expression in primary human bronchial epithelial cells. This decrease was associated with reduced CFTR-mediated short-circuit currents. THC also induced activation of the ERK MAPK pathway via activation of EGFR. Inhibition of EGFR or MEK/ERK prevented THC-induced down regulation of CFTR protein expression.Conclusions and general significanceTHC negatively regulates CFTR and this is mediated through the EGFR/ERK axis. This study provides the first evidence that THC present in marijuana reduces the expression and function of CFTR in airway epithelial cells.