Sex differences in the expression of the endocannabinoid system within V1M cortex and PAG of Sprague Dawley rats

Aidan Levine, Erika Liktor-Busa, Austin A. Lipinski, Sarah Couture, Shreya Balasubramanian, Sue A. Aicher, Paul R. Langlais, Todd W. Vanderah, Tally M. Largent-Milnes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Background: Several chronic pain disorders, such as migraine and fibromyalgia, have an increased prevalence in the female population. The underlying mechanisms of this sex-biased prevalence have yet to be thoroughly documented, but could be related to endogenous differences in neuromodulators in pain networks, including the endocannabinoid system. The cellular endocannabinoid system comprises the endogenous lipid signals 2-AG (2-arachidonoylglycerol) and AEA (anandamide); the enzymes that synthesize and degrade them; and the cannabinoid receptors. The relative prevalence of different components of the endocannabinoid system in specific brain regions may alter responses to endogenous and exogenous ligands. Methods: Brain tissue from naïve male and estrous staged female Sprague Dawley rats was harvested from V1M cortex, periaqueductal gray, trigeminal nerve, and trigeminal nucleus caudalis. Tissue was analyzed for relative levels of endocannabinoid enzymes, ligands, and receptors via mass spectrometry, unlabeled quantitative proteomic analysis, and immunohistochemistry. Results: Mass spectrometry revealed significant differences in 2-AG and AEA concentrations between males and females, as well as between female estrous cycle stages. Specifically, 2-AG concentration was lower within female PAG as compared to male PAG (*p = 0.0077); female 2-AG concentration within the PAG did not demonstrate estrous stage dependence. Immunohistochemistry followed by proteomics confirmed the prevalence of 2-AG-endocannabinoid system enzymes in the female PAG. Conclusions: Our results suggest that sex differences exist in the endocannabinoid system in two CNS regions relevant to cortical spreading depression (V1M cortex) and descending modulatory networks in pain/anxiety (PAG). These basal differences in endogenous endocannabinoid mechanisms may facilitate the development of chronic pain conditions and may also underlie sex differences in response to therapeutic intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number60
JournalBiology of Sex Differences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • 2-Arachidonoylglycerol
  • Anandamide
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Migraine
  • Pain
  • Periaqueductal grey
  • Proteomics
  • Sex differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Endocrinology


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