There are no pharmacological treatments for obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, but dronabinol showed promise in a small pilot study. In anesthetized rats, dronabinol attenuates reflex apnea via activation of cannabinoid (CB) receptors located on vagal afferents; an effect blocked by cannabinoid type 1 (CB1) and/or type 2 (CB2) receptor antagonists. Here, using a natural model of central sleep apnea, we examine the effects of dronabinol, alone and in combination with selective antagonists in conscious rats chronically instrumented to stage sleep and measure cessation of breathing.
Adult male Sprague-Dawley rats were anesthetized and implanted with bilateral stainless steel screws into the skull for electroencephalogram recording and bilateral wire electrodes into the nuchal muscles for electromyogram recording. Each animal was recorded by polysomnography on multiple occasions separated by at least 3 days. The study was a fully nested, repeated measures crossover design, such that each rat was recorded following each of 8 intraperitoneal injections: vehicle; vehicle and CB1 antagonist (AM 251); vehicle and CB2 antagonist (AM 630); vehicle and CB1/CB2 antagonist; dronabinol; dronabinol and CB1 antagonist; dronabinol and CB2 antagonist; and dronabinol and CB1/CB2 antagonist.
Dronabinol decreased the percent time spent in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. CB receptor antagonists did not reverse this effect. Dronabinol also decreased apneas during sleep, and this apnea suppression was reversed by CB1 or CB1/CB2 receptor antagonism.
Dronabinol's effects on apneas were dependent on CB1 receptor activation, while dronabinol's effects on REM sleep were CB receptor-independent.