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Cannabinoid receptor CB1 is changing brain aging: hope for ‘elixir of life’

Published by under Bio-Sciences,News categories on August 16, 2011

marijuana leafOur population is getting older. Recent findings from German researchers suggested a mechanism that is likely to protect the brain from aging: Switching off of the cannabinoid-1 receptor leads to faster aging of mouse brain.  By Dr. S. Pavlica.

In view of the growing aging population, more people will be affected with age-related neurological diseases such as stroke, dementia or epilepsy. Scientists are intensively looking for factors that can protect the brain from degeneration or repair defective structures.

Cannabinoids (marijuana, hashish or cannabis) have been used for “medical and recreational purposes” for many centuries evoking huge interest even controversy. Six years ago, Canadian researchers (http://www.jci.org/articles/view/25509) have demonstrated beneficial aspects of smoking marijuana (HU210); rats appeared to have sprouted new neuronal cells besides reduced rate of anxiety and depression. It triggered high hopes for “aging hippies”.

Cannabinoids and endocannabinoids (formed by the body) bind to receptors triggering a chain of signals. Is it surprisingly that cannabinoid receptors are conserved in various vertebrates for 500 million years? This natural selection may indicate their importance to life.

Cannabinoid-1 receptors (CB1) are mainly distributed on the neurons. Now researchers from the Universities of Bonn and Mainz have detected a novel function of CB1 in mouse brains using gene technology (knock-out mice). Mice lacking gene that encodes CB1 receptor have shown “an accelerated age-dependent deficit in spatial learning” accompanied by a neuronal loss in the hippocampus and increased neuroinflammation. Hippocampus is the central area of the brain associated with memory. So, in addition to an addictive potential, CB1 receptor can protect from degeneration of the brain.

The study results are published in July issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Albayram et al., PNAS 108 (27) 2011

Despite between-species differences, the age-related changes in mouse and human brains have many parallels. It seems that cannabinoid system may also present a protective mechanism in the aging of the human brain. For sure, these findings will open new questions to bring novel and innovative therapies to fight aging and neurodegeneration. In particular, future research using new synthetic cannabinoid chemicals is necessary to evaluate whether CB1may be used one day as “Elixir of eternal life” giving immortality to brain cells.

By Dr. Pavlica, scientist leader in biotechnology research at the University of Leipzig, Germany, and member of the European Medical Writers Association (EMWA).

 


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