Boosting natural marijuana-like brain chemicals treats fragile X syndrome symptoms

American and European scientists have found that increasing natural marijuana-like chemicals in the brain can help correct behavioral issues related to fragile X syndrome, the most common known genetic cause of autism.

The work indicates potential treatments for anxiety and in people with this condition. Results appear online in Nature Communications.

Daniele Piomelli of UC Irvine and Olivier Manzoni of INSERM, the French national research agency, led the study, which identified compounds that inhibit enzymes blocking endocannabinoid transmitters called 2-AG in the striatum and cortex regions of the brain.

These transmitters allow for the efficient transport of at synapses, structures through which information passes between neurons. In , regional synapse communication is severely limited, giving rise to certain cognitive and behavioral problems.

Fragile X syndrome is caused by a mutation of the on the . People born with it are mentally disabled; generally experience crawling, walking and ; tend to avoid eye contact; may be hyperactive or impulsive; and have such notable physical characteristics as an elongated face, flat feet and large ears.

The researchers stress that their findings, while promising, do not point to a cure for the condition.

"What we hope is to one day increase the ability of people with fragile X syndrome to socialize and engage in normal cognitive functions," said Piomelli, a UCI professor of anatomy & neurobiology and the Louise Turner Arnold Chair in the Neurosciences.

The study involved mice genetically altered with FMR1 mutations that exhibited symptoms of fragile X syndrome. Treated with novel compounds that correct 2-AG protein signaling in brain cells, these mice showed dramatic behavioral improvements in maze tests measuring anxiety and open-space acceptance.

While other work has focused on pharmacological treatments for behavioral issues associated with fragile X syndrome, Piomelli noted that this is the first to identify the role endocannabinoids play in the neurobiology of the condition.

Related Stories

New clue why autistic people don't want hugs

Feb 11, 2010

Why do people with fragile X syndrome, a genetic defect that is the best-known cause of autism and inherited mental retardation, recoil from hugs and physical touch - even from their parents?

Fragile X study offers new drug hope

Sep 24, 2012

(Medical Xpress)—An experimental drug can improve sociability in patients with fragile X syndrome and may be helpful as a treatment for autism, according to a study.

Recommended for you

Planning a better future for people with autism

Aug 27, 2014

In the world of special education, transition is the move from school to adult life. For most of us that move can be awkward, but for people with disabilities—particularly autism—it is especially complex.

Are three brain imaging techniques better than one?

Aug 22, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—Many recent imaging studies have shown that in children with autism, different parts of the brain do not connect with each other in typical ways. Initially, most researchers thought that ...

Adults with autism at higher risk of sexual victimization

Aug 14, 2014

Adults with autism are at a higher risk of sexual victimization than adults without, due to lack of sex education, but with improved interventions that focus on sexual knowledge and skill building, the risk could be reduced, ...

Autism rates steady for two decades

Aug 14, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—A University of Queensland study has found no evidence of an increase in autism in the past 20 years, countering reports that the rates of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are on the rise.

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

encoded
not rated yet Sep 25, 2012
I knew it!!!!