J Neurosci. 2021 Jun 15:JN-RM-3216-20. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3216-20.2021. Online ahead of print.
The non-psychoactive phytocannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) has been shown to have analgesic effects in animal studies but little is known about its mechanism of action. We examined effects of CBD on intrinsic excitability of primary pain-sensing neurons. Studying acutely-dissociated capsaicin-sensitive mouse DRG neurons at 37°C, we found that CBD effectively inhibited repetitive action potential firing, from 15-20 action potentials evoked by 1-s current injections in control to 1-3 action potentials with 2 μM CBD. Reduction of repetitive firing was accompanied by reduction of action potential height, widening of action potentials, reduction of the afterhyperpolarization, and increased propensity to enter depolarization block. Voltage clamp experiments showed that CBD inhibited both TTX-sensitive (TTX-S) and TTX-resistant (TTX-R) sodium currents in a use-dependent manner. CBD showed strong state-dependent inhibition of TTX-R channels, with fast binding to inactivated channels during depolarizations and slow unbinding on repolarization. CBD alteration of channel availability at various voltages suggested that CBD binds especially tightly (Kd of ∼150 nM) to the slow inactivated state of TTX-R channels, which can be substantially occupied at voltages as negative as -40 mV. Remarkably, CBD was more potent in inhibiting TTX-R channels and inhibiting action potential firing than the local anesthetic bupivacaine. We conclude that CBD might produce some of its analgesic effects by direct effects on neuronal excitability, with tight binding to the slow inactivated state of Nav1.8 channels contributing to effective inhibition of repetitive firing by modest depolarizations.Significance Statement:Cannabidiol has been shown to inhibit pain in various rodent models but the mechanism of this effect is unknown. We describe the ability of CBD to inhibit repetitive action potential firing in primary nociceptive neurons from mouse dorsal root ganglia and analyze the effects on voltage-dependent sodium channels. We find that CBD interacts with TTX-resistant sodium channels in a state-dependent manner suggesting particularly tight binding to slow inactivated states of Nav1.8 channels, which dominate overall inactivation of Nav1.8 channels for small maintained depolarizations from the resting potential. The results suggest that CBD can exert analgesic effects in part by directly inhibiting repetitive firing of primary nociceptors and suggest a strategy of identifying compounds that bind selectively to slow inactivated states of Nav1.8 channels for developing effective analgesics.