The psychoactive ingredient of the drug cannabis exerts its effects on the human brain by activating proteins known as cannabinoid receptors. Dr. Maurice Elphick of Queen Mary, University of London has uncovered the first evidence that cannabinoid receptors may not be unique to humans and other vertebrates.
The genome of the sea- squirt was recently sequenced, revealing a cannabinoid receptor gene in an invertebrate for the first time. This means that these receptors were present in the common ancestor of the chordates, much further back on the evolutionary timescale than previously thought.
As Dr. Elphick will report on Thursday 1st April 2004 at the annual SEB meeting in Edinburgh [session A1.7], the sea-squirt cannabinoid receptor gene is expressed in tissues outside the nervous system, raising interesting questions about the functions of this evolutionarily conserved signalling system.
Yfke van Bergen | alfa
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