While humans are living longer, the prevalence of dementia is also on the rise. And many researchers believe factors such as stress, accumulation of toxic waste products as well as inflammation accelerate aging in the brain.
However, scientists are also learning that certain mechanisms can protect the brain from deterioration and even repair defective structures.
For example, in a study of mice, European researchers have recently discovered a previously unknown function of the cannabinoid-1 receptor (CB1). A receptor is a protein that can bind to other substances, triggering a chain of signals.
Cannabinoids such as THC — the active agent in marijuana — and endocannabinoids formed by the body bind to the CB1 receptors.
The existence of this receptor is also the reason for the intoxicating effect of hashish and marijuana and perhaps the upbeat feeling of a runner’s high after intense exercise.
Not only does the CB1 receptor have an addictive potential, but it also plays a role in the degeneration of the brain.
“If we switch off the receptor using gene technology, mouse brains age much faster,” said Önder Albayram, a doctoral student at the Institute of Molecular Psychiatry at the University of Bonn in Germany and principal author of the study. “This means that the CB1 signal system has a protective effect for nerve cells.”
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