Written by Loren Grush
In an international collaboration of research centers from America and Europe, scientists have revealed that increasing chemicals in the brain that act similarly to marijuana can help repair the debilitating symptoms associated with fragile X syndrome.
The overall success of this study could lead to future treatments for the condition, which has been identified as the most common genetic basis for autism spectrum disorders. The research was published in Nature Communications.
The marijuana-like compound, called 2-AG, is a part of a class of chemicals called endocannabinoid transmitters. These compounds are naturally made by the brain, and they act by combining to receptor proteins in the brain that marijuana chemicals also bind with.
Fragile X syndrome is the result of a mutation of the FMR1 gene in the X chromosome passed on by the mother. The condition occurs mostly in males because females typically have another X chromosome to compensate for the faulty X chromosome. Symptoms of fragile X often include mental disability, walking and language delays and hyperactivity – as well as certain physical characteristics such as an elongated face and large ears.
Finding this association between boosting 2-AG and the decline of fragile X symptoms was almost a shot in the dark, according to Daniele Piomelli of UC Irvine and lead study author Olivier Manzoni of INSERM, the French nation research agency .
“This compound is so important in regulating neural transmission in the brain that it seemed possible that it might be involved in a disease that is so devastating on brain function,” Piomelli told FoxNews.com.
Piomelli explained most neurotransmitters in the brain work in a somewhat simple way. Crucial for communication between cells, they are almost like one-way messaging systems. For example, when an action needs to take place in the brain, ‘Cell A,’ – a neuron – will secrete a chemical (the neurotransmitter), which then travels to and binds with a designated ‘Cell B.’ The transmitter then activates the receiving cell or protein (‘Cell B’) so that it performs the function it needs to perform.