July 13, 2012
Glial Cells, Not Neurons, Responsible For Marijuana-Induced Forgetfulness
|Image Source: Polygram Filmed Entertainment|
|Marijuana impairs the brain by acting on two types of brain cells at once, a recent study reveals.The implication, says the lead researcher, is that there’s another side to the concious brain - in the glial cells - that neuroscientists hadn’t realized.|
Marijuana impairs working memory—the short-term memory we use to hold on to and process thoughts. Think of the classsic stoner who, midsentence, forgets the point he was making. Although such stupor might give recreational users the giggles, people using the drug for medical reasons might prefer to maintain their cognitive capacity.
To study how marijuana impairs working memory, Giovanni Marsicano of the University of Bordeaux in France and his colleagues at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre removed cannabinoid receptors—proteins that respond to marijuana's psychoactive ingredient THC—from neurons in mice. These mice, it turned out, were just as forgetful as regular mice when given THC: they were equally poor at memorizing the position of a hidden platform in a water pool. When the receptors were removed from astrocytes, however, the mice could find the platform just fine while on THC.
The results suggest that the role of glia in mental activity has been overlooked. Although research in recent years has revealed that glia are implicated in many unconscious processes and diseases, this is one of the first studies to suggest that glia play a critical role in conscious thought. “It's very likely that astrocytes have many more functions than we thought,” Marsicano says. “Certainly their role in cognition is now being revealed.”
For connectomics and other neuroscience projects dealting with mapping the neuronal connections in the brain, the impact of this study cannot be overstated. “Glial cells make up 90 per cent of the brain cells,” study researcher Xia Zhang said in an interview, “whereas neurons only make up 10 per cent.”
Unlike THC's effect on memory, its pain-relieving property appears to work through neurons. In theory, therefore, it might be possible to design THC-type drugs that target neurons—but not glia—and offer pain relief without the forgetfulness.
SOURCE Scientific American
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Tags: astrocytes, connectome, Giovanni Marsicano, glia, glial cells, marijuana, medicine, neurons, neuroscience, University of Bordeaux, Xia Zhang
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