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Neurotox Res. 2004;6(5):389-401.

Cannabinoids and gene expression during brain development.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Faculty of Medicine, Complutense University, Ciudad Universitaria s/n, 28040-Madrid, Spain.


Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in western societies, in particular among young people. It is consumed even by women during pregnancy and lactation, which result in a variety of disturbances in the development of their offspring, because, like other habit-forming drugs, cannabinoids, the psychoactive ingredients of marijuana, can cross the placental barrier and be secreted in the maternal milk. Through this way, cannabinoids affect the ontogeny of various neurotransmitter systems leading to changes in different behavioral patterns. Dopamine and endogenous opioids are among the neurotransmitters that result more affected by perinatal cannabinoid exposure, which, when animals mature, produce changes in motor activity, drug-seeking behavior, nociception and other processes. These disturbances are likely originated by the capability of cannabinoids to influence the expression of key genes for both neurotransmitters, in particular, the enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase and the opioid precursor proenkephalin. In addition, cannabinoids seem to be also able to influence the expression of genes encoding for neuron-glia cell adhesion molecules, which supports a potential influence of cannabinoids on the processes of cell proliferation, neuronal migration or axonal elongation in which these proteins are involved. In support of this possibility, CB1 receptors, which represent the major targets for the action of cannabinoids, are abundantly expressed in certain brain regions, such as the subventricular areas, which have been involved in these processes during brain development. Finally, cannabinoids might also be involved in the apoptotic death that occurs during brain development, possibly by influencing the expression of Bcl-2/Bax system. Also in support of this option, CB1 receptors are transiently expressed during brain development in different group of neurons which do not contain these receptors in the adult brain. This paper will review all evidence relating cannabinoids to the expression of key genes for neural development, trying to establish the future research addressed to elucidate the mechanisms involved in the epigenetic action of cannabinoids during brain development.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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