New! Sign up for our free email newsletter.
Science News
from research organizations

Neuroscientists discover previously unknown function of cannabinoid receptor

Study could improve our insights into brain diseases

May 2, 2016
DZNE - German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases
In the brain, there is a delicate interplay of signaling substances and cellular activity. Scientists have now identified another key player within this ensemble. In a laboratory study they found that the 'cannabinoid type 2 receptor' influences information processing inside the hippocampus. The research results might help advance our understanding of schizophrenia and Alzheimer's, say the authors.

The cannabinoid type 2 receptor -- also called "CB2 receptor" -- is a special membrane protein. Its function is to receive chemical signals that control cellular activity. "Until now, this receptor was considered part of the immune system without function in nerve cells. However, our study shows that it also plays an important role in the signal processing of the brain," explains Professor Dietmar Schmitz, Speaker for the DZNE-Site Berlin and Director of the Neuroscience Research Center of the Charité (NWFZ/NeuroCure). Schmitz coordinated the current study, which involved Berlin colleagues and also scientists from the University of Bonn and from the "National Institute on Drug Abuse" of the US.

As the researchers demonstrated in an animal model, the CB2 receptor raises the excitation threshold of nerve cells in the hippocampus. "Operation of the brain critically depends on the fact that nerve impulses sometimes have an exciting impact on downstream cells and in other cases they have a suppressing effect," says Dr Vanessa Stempel, lead author of the current publication, who is now doing research in Cambridge, UK. "The CB2 receptor works like a set screw by which such communication processes can be adjusted."

Component of the "endocannabinoid system"

The CB2 receptor is part of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This family of receptors and signaling substances exists in many organisms including humans. It is a biochemical control system which is involved in the regulation of numerous physiological processes. Its name refers to the fact that chemicals derived from the cannabis plant bind to receptors of the ECS. So far, there are two known types of these receptors: The CB2 receptor has no psychoactive effect. Hence, the mind-altering effects triggered by the consumption of cannabis are ascribed to the "cannabinoid type 1 receptor."

Potential therapeutic applications

The results of the current study could contribute to a better understanding of disease mechanisms and provide a starting point for novel medications. "Brain activity is disturbed in schizophrenia, depression, Alzheimer's disease and other neuropsychiatric disorders. Pharmaceuticals that bind to the CB2 receptor could possibly influence the activity of brain cells and thus become part of a therapy," Professor Schmitz concludes.

Story Source:

Materials provided by DZNE - German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. A. Vanessa Stempel, Alexander Stumpf, Hai-Ying Zhang, Tuğba Özdoğan, Ulrike Pannasch, Anne-Kathrin Theis, David-Marian Otte, Alexandra Wojtalla, Ildikó Rácz, Alexey Ponomarenko, Zheng-Xiong Xi, Andreas Zimmer, Dietmar Schmitz. Cannabinoid Type 2 Receptors Mediate a Cell Type-Specific Plasticity in the Hippocampus. Neuron, 2016; DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2016.03.034

Cite This Page:

DZNE - German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases. "Neuroscientists discover previously unknown function of cannabinoid receptor." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 May 2016. <>.
DZNE - German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases. (2016, May 2). Neuroscientists discover previously unknown function of cannabinoid receptor. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 23, 2024 from
DZNE - German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases. "Neuroscientists discover previously unknown function of cannabinoid receptor." ScienceDaily. (accessed April 23, 2024).

Explore More

from ScienceDaily