An international group led by Vanderbilt University researchers found cannabinoid receptors in a key emotional hub in the brain involved in regulating anxiety and the flight-or-fight response.
This is the first time cannabinoid receptors have been identified in the central nucleus of the amygdala in a mouse model, they said.
The discovery may help explain why marijuana users say they take the drug mainly to reduce anxiety, said Sachin Patel, the research paper's senior author.
Led by first author Teniel Ramikie, a graduate student in Patel's lab, the researchers also showed for the first time how nerve cells in this part of the brain make and release their own natural "endocannabinoids."
The study "could be highly important for understanding how cannabis exerts its behavioural effects," Patel said.
The researchers used high-affinity antibodies to "label" the cannabinoid receptors so they could be seen using various microscopy techniques, including electron microscopy, which allowed very detailed visualisation at individual synapses, or gaps between nerve cells.
"We know where the receptors are, we know their function, we know how these neurons make their own cannabinoids," Patel said.
"Now can we see how that system is affected by stress and chronic (marijuana) use. It might fundamentally change our understanding of cellular communication in the amygdala," said Patel.
The study was published in the journal Neuron.


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