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Exposure to Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol Impairs the Differentiation of Human Monocyte-derived Dendritic Cells and their Capacity for T cell Activation


The capacity for human monocytes to differentiate into antigen-presenting dendritic cells (DC) can be influenced by a number of immune modulating signals. Monocytes express intracellular cannabinoid type 1 (CB1) and 2 (CB2) receptors and we demonstrate that exposure to Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) inhibits the forskolin-induced generation of cyclic adenosine monophosphate in a CB2-specific manner. In order to examine the potential impact of cannabinoids on the generation of monocyte-derived DC, monocytes were cultured in vitro with differentiation medium alone [containing granulocyte/macrophage-colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF) and Interleukin-4 (IL-4)] or in combination with THC. The presence of THC (0.25-1.0 μg/ml) altered key features of DC differentiation, producing a concentration-dependent decrease in surface expression of CD11c, HLA-DR and costimulatory molecules (CD40 and CD86), less effective antigen uptake, and signs of functional skewing with decreased production of IL-12 but normal levels of IL-10. When examined in a mixed leukocyte reaction, DC that had been generated in the presence of THC were poor T cell activators as evidenced by their inability to generate effector/memory T cells or to stimulate robust IFN-γ responses. Some of these effects were partially restored by exposure to exogenous IL-7 and bacterial superantigen (S. aureus Cowans strain). These studies demonstrate that human monocytes express functional cannabinoid receptors and suggest that exposure to THC can alter their differentiation into functional antigen presenting cells; an effect that may be counter-balanced by the presence of other immunoregulatory factors. The impact of cannabinoids on adaptive immune responses in individuals with frequent drug exposure remains to be determined.

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