Monoglyceride lipase (MGL) degrades 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG), an endogenous agonist of cannabinoid receptors (CB1/2 ). Because the CB1 receptor is involved in the control of gut function, we investigated the effects of pharmacological inhibition and genetic deletion of MGL on intestinal motility. Furthermore, we determined whether defective 2-AG degradation affects μ-opioid receptor (μ receptor) signalling, a parallel pathway regulating gut motility. Gut motility was investigated by monitoring Evans Blue transit and colonic bead propulsion in response to MGL inhibition and CB1 receptor or μ receptor stimulation. Ileal contractility was investigated by electrical field stimulation. CB1 receptor expression in ileum and colon was assessed by immunohistochemical analyses. Pharmacological inhibition of MGL slowed down whole gut transit in a CB1 receptor-dependent manner. Conversely, genetic deletion of MGL did not affect gut transit despite increased 2-AG levels. Notably, MGL deficiency caused complete insensitivity to CB1 receptor agonist-mediated inhibition of whole gut transit and ileal contractility suggesting local desensitization of CB1 receptors. Accordingly, immunohistochemical analyses of myenteric ganglia of MGL-deficient mice revealed that CB1 receptors were trapped in endocytic vesicles. Finally, MGL-deficient mice displayed accelerated colonic propulsion and were hypersensitive to μ receptor agonist-mediated inhibition of colonic motility. This phenotype was reproduced by chronic pharmacological inhibition of MGL. Constantly elevated 2-AG levels induce severe desensitization of intestinal CB1 receptors and increased sensitivity to μ receptor-mediated inhibition of colonic motility. These changes should be considered when cannabinoid-based drugs are used in the therapy of gastrointestinal diseases.
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