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Bodyguard for the Brain: Researchers Identify Mechanism That Seems to Protect Brain f

  1. Terrapinzflyer
    Researchers from the Universities of Bonn and Mainz have discovered a mechanism that seems to protect the brain from aging. In experiments with mice, they switched off the cannabinoid-1 receptor. As a consequence, the animals showed signs of degeneration -- as seen in people with dementia -- much faster.

    The research results are presented in a current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

    Humans are getting older and older, and the number of people with dementia is increasing. The factors controlling degeneration of the brain are still mostly unknown. However, researchers assume that factors such as stress, accumulation of toxic waste products as well as inflammation accelerate aging. But, vice versa, there are also mechanisms that can -- like a bodyguard -- protect the brain from degenerating, or repair defective structures.

    Researchers from the Universities of Bonn and Mainz have now discovered a hitherto unknown function of the cannabinoid-1 receptor (CB1). A receptor is a protein that can bind to other substances, triggering a chain of signals. Cannabinoids such as THC -- the active agent in cannabis sativa -- and endocannabinoids formed by the body bind to the CB1 receptors. The existence of this receptor is also the reason for the intoxicating effect of hashish and marijuana.

    Not only does the CB1 receptor have an addictive potential, but it also plays a role in the degeneration of the brain. "If we switch off the receptor using gene technology, mouse brains age much faster," said Önder Albayram, principal author of the publication and a doctoral student on the team of Professor Dr. Andreas Zimmer from the Institut für Molekulare Psychiatrie at the University of Bonn. "This means that the CB1 signal system has a protective effect for nerve cells."

    Mice prove their brain power in a pool
    The researchers studied mice in different age categories -- young six week old animals, middle-aged ones at five months, and those of an advanced age at 12 months. The animals had to master various tasks -- first, they had to find a submerged platform in the pool. Once the mice knew its location, the platform was moved, and the animals had to find it again. This was how the researchers tested how well the rodents learned and remembered.

    The animals in which the CB1 receptor had been switched off (the knock-out mice) clearly differed from their kind. "The knock-out mice showed clearly diminished learning and memory capacity," said Privatdozent Dr. Andras Bilkei-Gorzo from Professor Zimmer's team, who led the study. So, animals that did not have the receptor were less successful in their search for the platform. "In addition, they showed a clear loss of nerve cells in the hippocampus," he explained further. This part of the brain is the central area for forming and storing information. In addition, the researchers found inflammation processes in the brain. As the mice advanced in age, the degenerative processes became increasingly noticeable.

    Amazing parallels with the human brain
    The animals with the intact CB1 receptor, to the contrary, did clearly better with regard to their learning and memory capabilities, as well as the health of their nerve cells. "The root cause of aging is one of the secrets of life," commented Albayram. This study has begun to open the door to solving this enigma. The processes in the mouse brains have a surprising number of parallels with age-related changes in human brains. So, the endocannabinoid system may also present a protective mechanism in the aging of the human brain.

    The principal author cautioned, "This will require additional research." The scientists would like to better understand the mechanism by which CB1 receptors protect the brain from inflammation processes. And based on these signal chains, it might then be possible to develop substances for new therapies.

    ScienceDaily (July 13, 2011)


  1. C.D.rose
    Re: Bodyguard for the Brain: Researchers Identify Mechanism That Seems to Protect Bra

    Hey, why did you give this the prefix "International" when it's a cooperation of two German universities? :mad:... j/k :laugh:.

    This is an interesting study, however, the one thing that confuses me (as a neuroscience rookee at best) is that, whenever I read studies that work with knock-out mice, I do wonder whether the results can really be as easily interpreted as they sometimes seem to be. I mean, you cannot just take the CB1 receptor out of the equation and then attribute all changes that occur to a lack of CB1 activity, can you? Neurotransmitter circuits are so intricably (sp?) linked, maybe the lack of CB1 activity has effects on some totally different parts of the brain. I mean, obviously, I don't know better than those scientists, but I'd think that this kind of research opens up much more questions than it actually answers.
  2. Terrapinzflyer
    Re: Bodyguard for the Brain: Researchers Identify Mechanism That Seems to Protect Bra

    Ahh- I never know whether to point to the country where the science was done- or go with international since the implications are worldwide...

    On a more serious note- catseye found and uploaded the paper HERE
  3. C.D.rose
    Re: Bodyguard for the Brain: Researchers Identify Mechanism That Seems to Protect Bra

    Haha, no worries! :) And thanks for the link, I'll check it out...
  4. Crazy Insane Sanity
    Re: Bodyguard for the Brain: Researchers Identify Mechanism That Seems to Protect Bra

    So, my question would be...would cannabis be good, or bad, in this respect. My first thought was, "Wow, so cannabis might prevent dementia!" I've actually heard a professor suggest this before. Something about cannabis increasing levels of acetylcholine, IIRC.

    But then I started wondering...cannabis downregulates cannabinoid receptors. Supposing that we can extrapolate these finding to humans, could this downregulation actually have an adverse effect? What if you smoke all the time (not in any way advocating this)? What if you smoke once a day or less?

    Anyway, interesting article. Thanks for sharing it!
  5. C.D.rose
    Re: Bodyguard for the Brain: Researchers Identify Mechanism That Seems to Protect Bra

    I know that thought but, personally, I think that cannabis isn't good for anything really other than medical treatments (i.e., curative use) when other options have failed and when it has proved to be effective or when the potential harm of trying it out is smaller than the potential (or probable) harm of letting someone go untreated. By that I want to say, in contrast to single cannabinoids or cannabinoid preparations (such as Sativex), actual cannabis is such a complex combination of active ingredients that it's basically impossible to go from an isolated finding such as the one presented in this article to the conclusion that cannabis would be good for doing this or that. For example, cannabis not only contains cannabinoid agonists, but also antagonists such as THCV. How do they interfere with or change the pharmacological actions of THC and other agonists in cannabis? How does the presence of a variety of agonists differ from the administration of THC alone? And so on...
  6. Crazy Insane Sanity
    Re: Bodyguard for the Brain: Researchers Identify Mechanism That Seems to Protect Bra

    Yes, I agree. That's kind of the point I was trying to make, but you went into more depth than I did. I've never been much a fan of the "cannabis is the miracle drug that can cure anything...etc." I was just trying to make a point that this doesn't mean cannabis is good (although the first thing that sprang to mind was a potential benefit), and I was trying to pry for some input from someone who knows more than me on the subject.

    With that said, thank you for reminding me about the various other constituents in cannabis that have varying pharmacological properties. I do feel that marijuana may have some medical benefits, and I also am all for it's legalized regulation...but I do not think marijuana is "good" for you, like many others do. Marijuana has it's downfalls just like any other drug, especially when abused. I would, however, like to see more information on this topic. Perhaps there are cannabinoids that can slow the onset of dementia? Maybe, like I suggested before, they would make matters worse? Only time and research will tell, but if anyone cares to speculate, I'd gladly listen.
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