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Marijuana-like compounds suppress the immune response

A group of Japanese scientists has discovered that cannabinoids can cause some white blood cells to lose their ability to migrate to the sites of infection and inflammation. These findings, which appear in the May 5 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, could have potential use in the development of novel anti-inflammatory drugs.

The cannabinoids are a group of chemicals that include marijuana. These compounds bind to and activate the body’s cannabinoid receptors. There are two types of cannabinoid receptor: the peripheral cannabinoid receptor (CB2) which is predominantly found in immune cells, and the central cannabinoid receptor (CB1) which occurs in the central nervous system.

Recent studies have suggested that CB2 may be involved in a wide range of physiologic phenomena related to immunity, although research on this function is still at an early stage. Among the possible immunological roles for CB2 is an involvement in the initiation of white blood cell migration to sites of infection and inflammation.

In the Journal of Biological Chemistry study, which was featured as a "Paper of the Week", Yumi Tohyama and colleagues used an in vitro model of blood cell migration to study the involvement of CB2 in the recruitment white blood cells. They found that treating the blood cells with compounds that bind to CB2 suppresses the migration of the cells. When they examined the cells, they discovered that they had lost their ability to develop a front/rear polarity, which is something they need to effectively migrate to sites of infection and inflammation.

Because cannabinoids seem to suppress activated white blood cells, Tohyama believes they could have a potential use in the treatment of inflammatory diseases.

Nicole Kresge | EurekAlert!
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