In a new study, researchers found that the endogenous compound anandamide—often referred to as the body’s own marijuana—plays a role in erasing memories of a traumatic event.
The results may provide a starting point for the treatment of anxiety disorders such as PTSD.
The research was conducted by an international team led by Leiden University.
When you smoke a joint, the active ingredient THC makes you feel relaxed. But there are also side effects, such as an increased appetite and loss of memory.
In the study, the team is the first in the world to inhibit the production of anandamide in the brain, thus revealing its true nature: it helps us forget traumatic memories and reduces stress.
The research started in 2015 the team managed to isolate the protein NAPE-PLD. This protein is responsible for the production of anandamide in the brain.
The next step was to find a compound that stops this protein from working—the idea was that inhibiting the production of anandamide would allow them to study its biological role.
The team then start searching for the compound that inhibits the protein. This involved 350,000 mini reactions, each with a different substance.
At the end of the screening, a hit emerged: a promising molecule to block the production of anandamide.
The team then spent two years synthesizing over 100 analogues– molecules that differ slightly from each other. One of these eventually revealed the function of anandamide in the body.
Next, the team and researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the U.S. tested whether our substance really works in the brain. That also turned out to be the case.
They found in animal models, LEI-401 meant that traumatic memories were no longer erased.
In addition, the corticosteroid level was elevated and a brain region was activated that is responsible for the coordination of the stress response.
The research opens the way for new methods to treat anxiety disorders such as PTSD.
As the researchers have now shown that anandamide is responsible for forgetting anxieties, pharmaceutical companies can focus on a new target.
And scientists then have two options: looking for molecules that stimulate the production of anandamide or looking for molecules that reduce its degradation.
One author of the study is Professor of Molecular Physiology Mario van der Stelt.
The study is published in Nature Chemical Biology.
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