BACKGROUND: The recent NIH mandate to consider sex as a biological variable in preclinical research has focused attention on delineation of sex differences in behavior. To investigate mechanisms underlying sex differences in Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) effects, we examined the effects of sex and gonadal hormones on CB1 receptors in cerebellum, hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and striatum.
METHODS: Adult Sprague-Dawley rats underwent gonadectomy (GDX) or sham-GDX. Half of the GDX females and males received estradiol or testosterone replacement (GDX+H), respectively. All rats were injected with vehicle or 30 mg/kg THC twice daily for 1 week before brain collection. CP55,940-stimulated [35S]GTPγS and [3H]SR141716A saturation binding assays were performed.
RESULTS: With exception of enhanced receptor activation in the hippocampi of female rats compared to males, vehicle-treated rats exhibited minimal sex differences in CB1 receptor densities or G-protein coupling. Repeated treatment with THC resulted in pronounced CB1 receptor desensitization and downregulation in both sexes in all brain regions with a greater magnitude of change in females.
CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that sex differences in the density and G-protein coupling of brain CB1 receptors may play a limited role in sex differences in acute THC effects not mediated by the hippocampus. In contrast, sex differences after repeated THC were common, with females (intact, GDX, and GDX+H) showing greater downregulation or desensitization in all four brain regions compared to the respective male groups. This result is consistent with a finding that women tend to progress to tolerance and dependence quicker than men after initiation of cannabis use.