The Dynamic Role of Microglia and the Endocannabinoid System in Neuroinflammation


Alexander P. Young, Eileen M. Denovan-Wright


Feb 04, 2022


Microglia, the resident immune cells of the brain, can take on a range of pro- or anti-inflammatory phenotypes to maintain homeostasis. However, the sustained activation of pro-inflammatory microglia can lead to a state of chronic neuroinflammation characterized by high concentrations of neurotoxic soluble factors throughout the brain. In healthy brains, the inflammatory processes cease and microglia transition to an anti-inflammatory phenotype, but failure to halt the pro-inflammatory processes is a characteristic of many neurological disorders. The endocannabinoid system has been identified as a promising therapeutic target for chronic neuroinflammation as there is evidence that synthetic and endogenously produced cannabinoids temper the pro-inflammatory response of microglia and may encourage a switch to an anti-inflammatory phenotype. Activation of cannabinoid type 2 (CB2) receptors has been proposed as the mechanism of action responsible for these effects. The abundance of components of the endocannabinoid system in microglia also change dynamically in response to several brain pathologies. This can impact the ability of microglia to synthesize and degrade endocannabinoids or react to endogenous and exogenous cannabinoids. Cannabinoid receptors also participate in the formation of receptor heteromers which influences their function specifically in cells that express both receptors, such as microglia. This creates opportunities for drug-drug interactions between CB2 receptor-targeted therapies and other classes of drugs. In this article, we review the roles of pro- and anti-inflammatory microglia in the development and resolution of neuroinflammation. We also discuss the fluctuations observed in the components of the endocannabinoid in microglia and examine the potential of CB2 receptors as a therapeutic target in this context.

DOI: 10.3389/fphar.2021.806417