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Endogenous cannabinoids linked to fetal brain damage imposed by maternal cannabis use

A critical step in brain development is governed by endogenous cannabinoids, the brains own marijuana. Studies conducted at Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet, with participation of scientists from Europe and the United States, are now published in Science and show that these endogenous molecules regulate how certain nerve cells recognize each other and form connections. The scientists believe that their findings will significantly advance our understanding of how cannabis smoking during pregnancy may damage the fetal brain.

The formation of connections among nerve cells occurs during a relatively short period in the fetal brain. However, proper wiring of hundreds of millions of cells in our brains determine whether we can think, remember, move, or show emotions throughout our lives. For a nerve cell, recognizing its partners and establish connections with them is the key to survive and contribute to the control of brain functions. The process through which nerve cells recognize each other is guided by specific chemical signals whose availability instructs neurons to target or to ignore specific cells.

Scientists have now identified that endogenous cannabinoids, molecules naturally produced by our brains and functionally similar to THC from cannabis, play unexpectedly significant roles in establishing how certain nerve cells connect to each other. These new and exciting results not only bolster out knowledge on the brains normal development but may also take us closer to understanding if and when cannabis damages the fetal brain.

Endogenous cannabinoids use the same mechanism, engaging the CB1 cannabinoid receptor, as THC to exert their effects on nerve cells. Therefore, the finding that endogenous cannabinoids control the establishment of connections amongst certain nerve cells convinces the scientists that they have defined a key mechanism through which maternal cannabis use might impair fetal brain development and impos
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Contact: Tibor Harkany
Tibor.Harkany@ki.se
46-852-487-835
Karolinska Institutet
24-May-2007


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