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Cannabinoid receptor could aid in future disease treatments

Researchers at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, the University of Bonn in Germany and the National Institute on Drug Abuse have found a new, neurological function for a receptor previously thought to be involved solely in the immune system.

The results of this study were published in the prestigious scientific journal Neuron.

The study

The study was directed by senior author Dietmar Schmitz, speaker for the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases and director of the Neuroscience Research Center of the Charité.

Schmitz and colleagues examined the cannabinoid receptor type 2, or the CB2 receptor for short. The CB2 receptor is a membrane-based protein that receives chemical signals and uses that information to modulate cellular activity. Unlike its cousin, the CB1 receptor, the CB2 receptor has no psychoactive effects. Both receptors, however, have been named because chemicals derived from the cannabis plant bind to them.

In this study, the researchers found that the CB2 receptor significantly raises the excitation threshold — or the likelihood that a neuron would respond to any given stimuli — in the hippocampus. In other words, the presence of the CB2 receptor made neurons in the hippocampus more reactive than normal.

“Operation of the brain critically depends on the fact that nerve impulses sometimes have an exciting impact on downstream cells and in other cases they have a suppressing effect,” explained A. Vanessa Stempel, first author of research study. Stempel is currently conducting research in Cambridge, U.K. “The CB2 receptor works like a set screw by which such communication processes can be adjusted.”

What does this mean?

Neuroscience is still a new field, and scientists have only scratched the surface on how our brains function. These results provide key insights into how one of our brain regions works: the hippocampus.

The hippocampus — a seahorse-shaped structure deep within the brain that is responsible for memory consolidation and spatial navigation (among other functions) — has been linked to numerous neuropsychological conditions.

The hippocampus has also been implicated in the formation of Alzheimer’s disease and a variety of other neuropsychological and neurodegenerative illnesses.

This study helps researchers better understand the hippocampus and may help scientists form new therapies and medications for countless diseases. Although we probably won’t be seeing any of these new therapies anytime soon, these results nevertheless mark an impressive step forward for the neuroscience and psychiatric community.

At Sovereign Health of Texas, we pride ourselves on following cutting-edge neuroscience research. Our clinicians use evidence-based methods to treat people struggling with substance use and co-occurring disorders. For more information on our programs, please contact our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Courtney Lopresti, M.S., is a senior staff writer for Sovereign Health, where she uses her scientific background to write online blogs and articles for a general audience. At the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her master’s in neuroscience, she used functional neuroimaging to study how the human cerebellum contributes to language processing. In her spare time, she writes fiction, reads Oliver Sacks and spends time with her two cats and bird. Courtney is currently located in Minneapolis. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at


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