Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The Endocannabinoids: Functional Roles and Therapeutic Opportunities

15.10.2007
Raphael Mechoulam from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Faculty of Medicine Department for Medical Chemistry and Natural Products, will tell the discovery story of the endocannabinoid system.

Cannabis (marijuana) is the most widely produced plant-based illicit drug worldwide and the illegal drug most frequently used in Europe. Its use increased in almost all EU countries during the 1990s, in particular among young people, including school students. Cannabis use is highest among 15- to 24-year-olds, with lifetime prevalence ranging for most countries from 20–40% (EMCDDA 2006).

Recently there has been a new surge in the level of concern about potential social and health outcomes of cannabis use, although the available evidence still does not provide a clear-cut understanding of the issues. Intensive cannabis use is correlated with non-drug-specific mental problems, but the question of co-morbidity is intertwined with the questions of cause and effect (EMCDDA 2006). Prevention is of importance in adolescents, which is underlined by evidence that early-onset cannabis-users (pre- to mid-adolescence) have a significantly higher risk of developing drug problems, including dependence (Von Sydow et al., 2002; Chen et al., 2005).

The illegal status and wide-spread use of cannabis made basic and clinical cannabis research difficult in the past decades; on the other hand, it has stimulated efforts to identify the psychoactive constituents of cannabis. As a consequence, the endocannabinoid system was discovered, which was shown to be involved in most physiological systems – the nervous, the cardiovascular, the reproductive, the immune system, to mention a few.

One of the main roles of endocannabinoids is neuroprotection, but over the last decade they have been found to affect a long list of processes, from anxiety, depression, cancer development, vasodilatation to bone formation and even pregnancy (Panikashvili et al., 2001; Pachter et al., 2006).

Cannabinoids and endocannabinoids are supposed to represent a medicinal treasure trove which waits to be discovered.

What is the endocannabinoid system?

In the 1960s the constituent of the cannabis plant was discovered – named tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC – which causes the 'high' produced by it (Gaoni & Mechoulam, 1964). Thousands of publications have since appeared on THC. Today it is even used as a therapeutic drug against nausea and for enhancing appetite, and, surprisingly, has not become an illicit drug – apparently cannabis users prefer the plant-based marijuana and hashish.

Two decades later it was found that THC binds to specific receptors in the brain and the periphery and this interaction initiates a cascade of biological processes leading to the well known marijuana effects. It was assumed that a cannabinoid receptor is not formed for the sake of a plant constituent (that by a strange quirk of nature binds to it), but for endogenous brain constituents and that these putative 'signaling' constituents together with the cannabinoid receptors are part of a new biochemical system in the human body, which may affect various physiological actions. In trying to identify these unknown putative signaling molecules, our research group in the 1990s was successful in isolating 2 such endogenous 'cannabinoid' components – one from the brain, named anandamide (from the word ´ananda, meaning ´supreme joy´ in Sanscrit), and another one from the intestines named 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG) (Devane et al., 1992; Mechoulam et al., 1995).

Neuroprotection

The major endocannabinoid (2-AG) has been identified both in the central nervous system and in the periphery. Stressful stimuli – traumatic brain injury (TBI) for example – enhance brain 2-AG levels in mice. 2-AG, both of endogenous and exogenous origin, has been shown to be neuroprotective in closed head injury, ischemia and excitotoxicity in mice. These effects may derive from the ability of cannabinoids to act through a variety of biochemical mechanisms. 2-AG also helps repair the blood brain barrier after TBI. The endocannabinoids act via specific cannabinoid receptors, of which the CB1 receptors are most abundant in the central nervous system. Mice whose CB1 receptors are knocked out display slower functional recovery after TBI and do not respond to treatment with 2-AG. Over the last few years several groups have noted that CB2 receptors are also formed in the brain, particularly as a reaction to numerous neurological diseases, and are apparently activated by the endocannabinoids as a protective mechanism.

Through evolution the mammalian body has developed various systems to guard against damage that may be caused by external attacks. Thus, it has an immune system, whose main role is to protect against protein attacks (microbes, parasites for example) and to reduce the damage caused by them. Analogous biological protective systems have also been developed against non-protein attacks, although they are much less well known than the immune system. Over the last few years the research group of Esther Shohami in collaboration with our group showed that the endocannabinoid system, through various biological routes, lowers the damage caused by brain trauma. Thus, it helps to attenuate the brain edema and the neurological injuries caused by it (Panikashvili et al., 2001; Panikashvili et al., 2006).

Clinical importance

Furthermore it is assumed that the endocannabinoid system may be involved in the pathogenesis of hepatic encephalopathy, a neuropsychiatric syndrome induced by fulminant hepatic failure. Indeed in an animal model the brain levels of 2-AG were found to be elevated. Administration of 2-AG improved a neurological score, activity and cognitive function (Avraham et al., 2006). Activation of the CB2 receptor by a selective agonist also improved the neurological score. The authors concluded that the endocannabinoid system may play an important role in the pathogenesis of hepatic encephalopathy. Modulation of this system either by exogenous agonists specific for the CB2 receptors or possibly also by antagonists to the CB1 receptors may have therapeutic potential. The endocannabinoid system generally is involved in the protective reaction of the mammalian body to a long list of neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Thus, there is hope for novel therapeutic opportunities.

Numerous additional endocannabinoids – especially various fatty acid ethanolamides and glycerol esters – are known today and regarded as members of a large ´endocannabinoid family´. Endogenous cannabinoids, the cannabinoid receptors and various enzymes that are involved in their syntheses and degradations comprise the endocannabinoid system.

The endocannabinoid system acts as a guardian against various attacks on the mammalian body.

Conclusion

The above described research concerning the endocannabinoid-system is of importance in both basic science and in therapeutics:

•The discovery of the cannabis plant active constituent has helped advance our understanding of cannabis use and its effects.

•The discovery of the endocannabinoids has been of central importance in establishing the existence of a new biochemical system and its physiological roles – in particular in neuroprotection.

•These discoveries have opened the door for the development of novel types of drugs, such as THC for the treatment of nausea and for enhancing appetite in cachectic patients.

•The endocannabinoid system is involved in the protective reaction of the mammalian body to a long list of neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease which raises hope for novel therapeutic opportunities for these diseases.

References

Avraham Y, Israeli E, Gabbay E, et al. Endocannabinoids affect neurological and cognitive function in thioacetamide-induced hepatic encephalopathy in mice. Neurobiology of Disease 2006;21:237-245

Chen CY, O´Brien MS, Anthony JC. Who becomes cannabis dependent soon after onset of use? Epidemiological evidence from the United States: 2000-2001. Drug and alcohol dependence 2005;79:11-22

Devane WA, Hanus L, Breuer A, et al. Isolation and structure of a brain constituent that binds to the cannabinoid receptor. Science 1992;258:1946-1949

[EMCDDA 2006] European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. The state of the drugs problem in Europe. Annual Report 2006 (www.emcdda.europa.eu)

Gaoni Y, Mechoulam R. Isolation, structure and partial synthesis of an active constituent of hashish. J Amer Chem Soc 1964;86:1646-1647

Journal Interview 85: Conversation with Raphael Mechoulam. Addiction 2007;102:887-893

Mechoulam R, Ben-Shabat S, Hanus L, et al. Identification of an endogenous 2-monoglyceride, present in canine gut, that binds to cannabinoid receptors. Biochem Pharmacol 1995;50:83-90

Mechoulam R, Panikashvili D, Shohami E. Cannabinoids and brain injury. Trends Mol Med 2002;8:58-61

Pachter P, Batkai S, Kunos G. The endocannabinoid system as an emerging target of pharmacotherapy. Pharmacol Rev 2006;58:389-462

Panikashvili D, Simeonidou C, Ben-Shabat S, et al. An endogenous cannabinoid (2-AG) is neuroprotective after brain injury. Nature 2001;413:527-531

Panikashvili D, Shein NA, Mechoulam R, et al. The endocannabinoid 2-AG protects the blood brain barrier after closed head injury and inhibits mRNA expression of proinflammatory cytokines. Neurobiol Disease 2006;22:257-264

Von Sydow K, Lieb R, Pfister H, et al. What predicts incident use of cannabis and progression to abuse and dependence? A 4-year prospective examination of risk factors in a community sample of adolescents and young adults. Drug and alcohol dependence 2002;68:49-64

Maria Vrijmoed-de Vries | alfa
Further information:
http://www.ecnp.eu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Individual Receptors Caught at Work
19.10.2017 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

nachricht Rapid environmental change makes species more vulnerable to extinction
19.10.2017 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Physics boosts artificial intelligence methods

19.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NASA team finds noxious ice cloud on saturn's moon titan

19.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

New procedure enables cultivation of human brain sections in the petri dish

19.10.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>