Cannabinoids are secondary metabolites stored in capitate-sessile glands on leaves of Cannabis sativa. We discovered that cell death is induced in the leaf tissues exposed to cannabinoid resin secreted from the glands, and identified cannabichromenic acid (CBCA) and Δ1-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) as unique cell death mediators from the resin. These cannabinoids effectively induced cell death in the leaf cells or suspension-cultured cells of C. sativa, whereas pretreatment with the mitochondrial permeability transition (MPT) inhibitor cyclosporin A suppressed this cell death response. Examinations using isolated mitochondria demonstrated that CBCA and THCA mediate opening of MPT pores without requiring Ca2+ and other cytosolic factors, resulting in high amplitude mitochondrial swelling, release of mitochondrial proteins (cytochrome c and nuclease), and irreversible loss of mitochondrial membrane potential. Therefore, CBCA and THCA are considered to cause serious damage to mitochondria through MPT. The mitochondrial damage was also confirmed by a marked decrease of ATP level in cannabinoid-treated suspension cells. These features are in good accord with those of necrotic cell death, whereas DNA degradation was also observed in cannabinoid-mediated cell death. However, the DNA degradation was catalyzed by nuclease(s) released from mitochondria during MPT, indicating that this reaction was not induced via a caspase-dependent apoptotic pathway. Furthermore, the inhibition of the DNA degradation only slightly blocked the cell death induced by cannabinoids. Based on these results, we conclude that CBCA and THCA have the ability to induce necrotic cell death via mitochondrial dysfunction in the leaf cells of C. sativa.
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