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

Association between air toxics and childhood autism

1 hour ago

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were more likely to have been exposed to higher levels of certain air toxics during their mothers' pregnancies and the first two years of life compared to children ...

A tool enhances social inclusion for people with autism

Oct 15, 2014

The University of Alicante has developed, together with centres in the UK, Spain and Bulgaria, a tool designed to assist people with autism spectrum disorders by adapting written documents into a format that ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

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