Inflammation, autoimmune response, demyelination and axonal damage are thought to participate in the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis (MS). Understanding whether axonal damage causes or originates from demyelination is a crucial issue. Excitotoxic processes may be responsible for white matter and axonal damage. Experimental and clinical studies indicate that cannabinoids could prove efficient in the treatment of MS. Using a chronic model of MS in mice, we show here that clinical signs and axonal damage in the spinal cord were reduced by the AMPA antagonist, NBQX. Amelioration of symptomatology by the synthetic cannabinoid HU210 was also accompanied by a reduction of axonal damage in this model. Moreover, HU210 reduced AMPA-induced excitotoxicity both in vivo and in vitro through the obligatory activation of both CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors. Together, these data underline the implication of excitotoxic processes in demyelinating pathologies such as MS and the potential therapeutic properties of cannabinoids.
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Chronic relapsing experimental allergic encephalomyelitis (CREAE) is an autoimmune model of multiple sclerosis1. Although both these diseases are typified by relapsing-remitting paralytic episodes, after CREAE induction by sensitization to myelin antigens1 Biozzi ABH mice also develop spasticity and tremor. These symptoms also occur during multiple sclerosis and are difficult to control. This has prompted some patients to find alternative medicines, and to perceive benefit from cannabis use2. Although this benefit has been backed up by small clinical studies, mainly with non-quantifiable outcomes3, 4, 5, 6, 7, the value of cannabis use in multiple sclerosis remains anecdotal. Here we show that cannabinoid (CB) receptor agonism using R(+)-WIN 55,212, 9-tetrahydrocannabinol, methanandamide and JWH-133 (ref. 8) quantitatively ameliorated both tremor and spasticity in diseased mice. The exacerbation of these signs after antagonism of the CB1 and CB2 receptors, notably the CB1 receptor, using SR141716A and SR144528 (ref. 8) indicate that the endogenous cannabinoid system may be tonically active in the control of tremor and spasticity. This provides a rationale for patients' indications of the therapeutic potential of cannabis in the control of the symptoms of multiple sclerosis2, and provides a means of evaluating more selective cannabinoids in the future.