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29/05/2007 00:00:00

EU: 'Brain's own marijuana' regulates brain development, research


Molecules produced by our brain which are similar to the active
ingredient of cannabis play a key role in the brain's development,
according to new research. The findings offer an explanation as to how
smoking cannabis during pregnancy could affect the developing brain.

The study, which was partly funded by the EU through the Sixth Framework
Programme (FP6) and brought together scientists from around the world,
is published in the latest edition of the journal Science.

Our ability to think, move, remember and show emotions depends on our
hundreds of billions of brain cells being connected to each other
correctly. These connections are formed during a relatively short period
of time while we are still in the womb.

In this latest study, the scientists looked at the role in brain
development of endogenous cannabinoids, 'the brain's own marijuana'.
These molecules, which are produced naturally in the brain, attach
themselves to the CB1 cannabinoid receptor on nerve cells, just like
tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in cannabis.

Now the researchers have shown that endogenous cannabinoids play a
significant role in ensuring the correct formation of connections
between nerve cells during foetal development. The do this by guiding
the long 'arms' (axons) of the nerve cells to establish the right
connections. The researchers note that marijuana smoked during pregnancy
could disrupt this process.

'Besides identifying a fundamental mechanism in brain development, our
findings may provide new perspectives to identifying the molecular
changes in the brains of individuals prenatally affected by maternal
cannabis use,' said Dr Tibor Harkany of the Karolinska Institute in
Sweden, who lead the research. 'This is of social impact given the
continuous growing use of marijuana, the most common illicit drug, in
our society.'

Previous studies have shown that the children of mothers who smoked
marijuana during pregnancy are at an increased risk of suffering from
cognitive deficits, concentration disorders, hyperactivity and problems
with social interactions.

Data Source Provider: Karolinska Institutet, Science
Document Reference: Berghuis, P et al. (2007) Hardwiring the brain:
Endocannabinoids shape neuronal connectivity. Science 316: 1212-1216.

Author: Cordis News via UKCIA

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