Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women. Cannabinoid receptor 2 (CNR2 or CB2) is an integral part of the endocannabinoid system. Although CNR2 is highly expressed in the breast cancer tissues as well as breast cancer cell lines, its functional role in breast tumorigenesis is not well understood. We observed that estrogen receptor-a negative (ERa-) breast cancer cells highly express epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) as well as insulin-like growth factor-I receptor (IGF-IR). We also observed IGF-IR upregulation in ERa+ breast cancer cells. In addition, we found that higher CNR2 expression correlates with better recurrence free survival in ERa- and ERa+ breast cancer patients. Therefore, we analyzed the role of CNR2 specific agonist (JWH-015) on EGF and/ or IGF-I-induced tumorigenic events in ERa- and ERa+ breast cancers. Our studies showed that CNR2 activation inhibited EGF and IGF-I-induced migration and invasion of ERa+ and ERa- breast cancer cells. At the molecular level, JWH-015 inhibited EGFR and IGF-IR activation and their downstream targets STAT3, AKT, ERK, NFkB and matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). In vivo studies showed that JWH-015 significantly reduced breast cancer growth in ERa+ and ERa- breast cancer mouse models. Furthermore, we found that the tumors derived from JWH-015-treated mice showed reduced activation of EGFR and IGF-IR and their downstream targets. In conclusion, we show that CNR2 activation suppresses breast cancer through novel mechanisms by inhibiting EGF/EGFR and IGF-I/IGF-IR signaling axes.
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