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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) inhibits lytic replication of gamma oncogenic herpesviruses in vitro

Maria M Medveczky, Tracy A Sherwood, Thomas W Klein, Herman Friedman and Peter G Medveczky*

Author Affiliations

Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, MDC Box 10, University of South Florida, and the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, 12901 Bruce B. Downs Blvd, Tampa, FL 33612-4799, USA

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BMC Medicine 2004, 2:34  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-2-34

Published: 15 September 2004

Abstract

Background

The major psychoactive cannabinoid compound of marijuana, delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), has been shown to modulate immune responses and lymphocyte function. After primary infection the viral DNA genome of gamma herpesviruses persists in lymphoid cell nuclei in a latent episomal circular form. In response to extracellular signals, the latent virus can be activated, which leads to production of infectious virus progeny. Therefore, we evaluated the potential effects of THC on gamma herpesvirus replication.

Methods

Tissue cultures infected with various gamma herpesviruses were cultured in the presence of increasing concentrations of THC and the amount of viral DNA or infectious virus yield was compared to those of control cultures. The effect of THC on Kaposi's Sarcoma Associated Herpesvirus (KSHV) and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) replication was measured by the Gardella method and replication of herpesvirus saimiri (HVS) of monkeys, murine gamma herpesvirus 68 (MHV 68), and herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1) was measured by yield reduction assays. Inhibition of the immediate early ORF 50 gene promoter activity was measured by the dual luciferase method.

Results

Micromolar concentrations of THC inhibit KSHV and EBV reactivation in virus infected/immortalized B cells. THC also strongly inhibits lytic replication of MHV 68 and HVS in vitro. Importantly, concentrations of THC that inhibit virus replication of gamma herpesviruses have no effect on cell growth or HSV-1 replication, indicating selectivity. THC was shown to selectively inhibit the immediate early ORF 50 gene promoter of KSHV and MHV 68.

Conclusions

THC specifically targets viral and/or cellular mechanisms required for replication and possibly shared by these gamma herpesviruses, and the endocannabinoid system is possibly involved in regulating gamma herpesvirus latency and lytic replication. The immediate early gene ORF 50 promoter activity was specifically inhibited by THC. These studies may also provide the foundation for the development of antiviral strategies utilizing non-psychoactive derivatives of THC.