Microglia, the resident immune cells of the central nervous system, mediate brain homeostasis by controlling neuronal proliferation/differentiation and synaptic activity. In response to external signals from neuropathological conditions, homeostatic (M0) microglia can adopt one of two activation states: the classical (M1) activation state, which secretes mediators of the proinflammatory response, and the alternative (M2) activation state, which presumably mediates the resolution of neuroinflammation and tissue repair/remodeling. Since chronic inflammatory activation of microglia is correlated with several neurodegenerative diseases, functional modulation of microglial phenotypes has been considered as a potential therapeutic strategy. The endocannabinoid (eCB) system, composed of cannabinoid receptors and ligands and their metabolic/biosynthetic enzymes, has been shown to activate anti-inflammatory signaling pathways that modulate immune cell functions.
Over the last decade, it has been revealed that the eCB system modulates microglial activation and population. Cannabinoid 2 receptor (CB2R) signaling shifts the balance of expression between neuroinflammatory (M1-type) genes, neuroprotective (M2-type) genes, and homeostatic (M0-type) genes toward the latter two gene expressions, by which microglia acquire therapeutic functionality.