The Link Between Cannabinoid Receptor 2 in the Brain and Alzheimer’s

alzheimers research

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and ruins the minds of millions of people around the world. Enormous amounts of research has been carried out in the last 30 years but so far there is no cure for the disease. However, the role of the endocannabinoid system, which cannabinoids interact with, has been shown to play an important role in the inflammation caused by Alzheimer’s.

The researchers in this study used a technique called fluorescence to show how the cannabinoid type 2 receptor (CB2) was being expressed in the brains of mice with Alzheimer’s disease. By inserting a gene for a fluorescent molecule into the genome of mice so that it produces “enhanced green fluorescent protein” (EGFP) when CB2 is expressed (produced), the locations of the receptors was made clear.

When the scientists examined the brains of these transgenic mice with Alzheimer’s, the results were fascinating. The endocannabinoid system is one of the main systems that controls inflammation in the body and here CB2 receptors were shown to be upregulated (produced in higher quantities) in parts of the brain that had high levels of inflammation and amyloid deposition.

Amyloid beta is a protein that collects on neurons and causes them to die. It is the main reason Alzheimer’s damages our brains. It seems to rely heavily on the inflammatory response, which leads to further damage.

In different areas of the brain, including the cortex, hippocampus, brain stem and thalamus, the increase in inflammation and amyloid deposition coincided with more CB2 expression. This clearly suggests an important role for the CB2 receptor in Alzheimer’s related inflammation.

When mice with Alzheimer’s had the gene for CB2 deleted, they showed fewer amyloid plaques but the same levels of a protein called IL1beta, which is an important signalling molecule. It is not clear why this happened, but it shows that CB2 can change the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. More research is needed to find out how.

The hopes are that the endocannabinoid system could be used as an avenue to reduce the inflammation caused by amyloid plaques and maybe even help slow the progress of the disease. To be clear: the endocannabinoid system is not looking like a way to produce a cure, more like a way to help reduce symptoms.

So far, how CB2 receptors work in Alzheimer’s disease is not well understood. It seems to be very complex. The brain responds to the amyloid plaques by trying to fight it with inflammation. The inflammation damages the brain further. If this can somehow be reduced, there is a good chance that cannabinoid therapy can be developed for Alzheimer’s.

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