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Natural Brain Substance Linked to Parkinson's Symptoms

Neuroscientists have found that a substance similar to the active ingredient in marijuana but produced naturally in the brain helps to control mobility// - and may offer a novel target for treating Parkinson's disease.

The findings by Stanford University researchers, reported in the latest issue of the journal Nature, show how marijuana-like "endocannabinoids" - one of the many chemicals used in the brain to transmit signals - form part of the neural machinery that directs normal physical movement.

A shortage of the endocannabinoids, the scientists found, can knock the system out of balance to produce the characteristic tremor, rigidity and other mobility problems of Parkinson's disease patients.

The shortage arises when another signaling system in the brain, driven by the neurotransmitter dopamine, starts to break down. Without enough dopamine, the researchers found, brain cells stop-producing endocannabinoids in the proper amount needed to control movement.

Researchers used mice specially bred so that target cells in the striatum - a region deep in the brain where endocannabinoids and dopamine operate - could be identified and recorded when the mice were given toxins to mimic the symptoms of Parkinson's. The mice were administered a drug combination - potentially a precursor of a human experimental therapy - to test the main findings.

One drug, called quinpirole, boosted dopamine - a standard medical strategy in human cases. The other drug - known as KDS-4103, being developed as a possible pain medication by an Irvine biotech company called Kadmus Pharmaceuticals Inc. - blocked the action of an enzyme that degrades endocannabinoids in the brain.

The result of this one-two punch was a dramatic improvement in Parkinson's symptoms in the mice, according to the study authors, Dr. Robert Malenka and Anatol C. Kreitzer.

"The hope is that if the same sorts of things are going on in human brains, that
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