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Newly discovered mechanism controls levels and efficacy of a marijuana-like substance in the brain
Date:8/6/2010

A newly discovered molecular mechanism helps control the amount and effectiveness of a substance that mimics an active ingredient in marijuana, but that is produced by the body's own nerve cells.

The results were reported in the latest Nature Neuroscience. The lead author on the study is William R. Marrs of the Neurobiology and Behavior program at the University of Washington (UW). The senior author is Dr. Nephi Stella, UW professor of pharmacology and psychiatry.

In previous papers, Stella and other scientists have noted that the body manufactures several cell signals that mimic the actions of marijuana-derived chemicals These signals are called endocannabinoids, a Latin-derived name for marijuana-like (cannabis) constituents created by the body's own cells (endo).

Marrs, Stella and their research team study endocannabinoids, their receptors on cells, and the cell functions controlled by these signals.

They hope their future work encourages the design of therapies to modulate these molecular communications. Specifically targeted treatments, for example, might give cancer and AIDS patients the same medicinal benefits as marijuana without its mind-altering properties.

Because cannabinoid signaling systems are common throughout the body and affect a variety of functions, therapies aimed at these systems might be more wide-ranging than simply a better substitute for medicinal marijuana. Stella is especially interest in the potential for helping people with conditions for which even symptomatic treatment is limited or non-existent, such as multiple sclerosis, brain tumors, Huntington's disease and other autoimmune or neurological disorders.

Earlier Stella's group discovered a key endocannabinoid, called 2-AG, that carries a type of messaging between brain cells. 2-AG is also implicated in brain cell migration and brain tissue inflammation. It does this by activating one type of cannabinoid recepto
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Contact: Leila Gray
leilag@u.washington.edu
205-685-0381
University of Washington
Source:Eurekalert  

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