Date of Award

Spring 5-22-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Biological Science

First Advisor

Cimona V. Hinton, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Nathan Bowen, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Jaideep Chaudhary, Ph.D.


The expression of C-X-C Chemokine Receptor 4 (CXCR4) has been correlated with increased metastatic potential of cancer cells. CXCR4 increases tumor malignancy by encouraging tumors cells to migrate to distal organs expressing its cognate ligand, CXCL12, facilitating metastasis. Thus, targeting the CXCR4/CXCL12 signaling axis provides a good strategy to inhibit the metastatic spread of tumor cells and slow cancer progression. Various studies suggest that cannabis may have anti-proliferative as well as anti-metastatic properties, though a biochemical mechanism describing how this occurs has yet to be discovered. Our lab has confirmed that agonist-bound CXCR4 and agonist-bound Cannabinoid Receptor 2 (CB2) can form heterodimers that play a role in decreasing cancer cell migration. Simultaneous treatment of the breast cancer cell line, MDA-MB-231 and the prostate cancer cell line PC-3, with CXCL12 and AM1241, a synthetic ligand for CB2, desensitizes the intrinsic cellular response to migrate toward areas of high CXCL12 concentration. Furthermore, through co-immunoprecipitation and

proximity ligation assays (PLA), we have determined that there is increased interaction between the two receptors with co-stimulation of respective agonists, providing evidence for the therapeutic notion that treating tumors that endogenously secrete CXCL12 with exogenous ligands for the cannabinoid can induce dimerization. Moreover, when CXCR4 and CB2 were activated simultaneously with various agonists, decreases in migration were observed, confirming that the regulatory activity was receptor-based, not agonist-based. Finally, to determine whether simultaneously–treated, dimerized receptors inhibited activity of respective receptors, calcium mobilization assays to determine G-protein coupled receptor activation were employed. Results showed that transiently activated calcium levels were significantly lower in response to simultaneous treated cells when compared to cells treated with their individual ligands. Phosphorylation of ERK and AKT were abrogated in response to simultaneous stimulation indicating loss in downstream signaling. Therefore, we believe that the interaction of CB2 with CXCR4 may play a role in inhibiting the cells response to CXCL12, leading to a loss in metastatic potential of cells expressing these receptors.