The role of the endocannabinoid system in Alzheimer’s disease: facts and hypotheses.

“Unlike other neuroinflammatory disorders, like Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and multiple sclerosis, little is still known of the role of the endocannabinoid system in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). This is partly due to the poor availability of animal models that are really relevant to the human disease, and to the complexity of AD as compared to other neurological states. Nevertheless, the available data indicate that endocannabinoids are likely to play in this disorder a role similar to that suggested in other neurodegenerative diseases, that is, to represent an endogenous adaptive response aimed at counteracting both the neurochemical and inflammatory consequences of beta-amyloid-induced tau protein hyperactivity, possibly the most important underlying cause of AD.

Furthermore, plant and synthetic cannabinoids, and particularly the non-psychotropic cannabidiol, might also exert other, non-cannabinoid receptor-mediated protective effects, including, but not limited to, anti-oxidant actions. There is evidence, from in vivo studies on beta-amyloid-induced neurotoxicity, also for a possible causative role of endocannabinoids in the impairment in memory retention, which is typical of AD.

 This might open the way to the use of cannabinoid receptor antagonists as therapeutic drugs for the treatment of cognitive deficits in the more advanced phases of this disorder. The scant, but nevertheless important literature on the regulation and role of the endocannabinoid system in AD, and on the potential treatment of this disorder with cannabinoids and endocannabinoid-based drugs, are discussed in this mini-review.”

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Cannabidiol Reduces Aβ-Induced Neuroinflammation and Promotes Hippocampal Neurogenesis through PPARγ Involvement

“CBD blunted neuroinflammation sustained by astrocytes through PPARγ selective activation in vitro and in vivo.

Results from the present study prove the selective involvement of PPARγ in the anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects of CBD here observed either in vitro and in vivo. In addition, CBD significantly promoted neurogenesis in Aβ injured rat hippocampi, much expanding its already wide spectrum of beneficial actions exerted in AD models, a non negligible effect, due to its capability to activate PPARγ.

In conclusion, results of the present research demonstrate that CBD may exert protective functions through a PPARγ dependent activation, which leads to a reduction in reactive gliosis and consequently in neurodegeneration. Moreover, in the current experimental conditions this phytocannabinoid appears to stimulate neurogenesis since it increases DCX immunopositive cell proliferation rate in rat DG.

Innovative therapeutic approaches which could significantly improve AD course require new molecules that will be able to have an impact on different pathological pathways, which converge at the progressive neurological decline. CBD has shown a capability to profoundly reduce reactive astrogliosis and to guarantee both direct and indirect neuronal protection in Aβ induced neuroinflammation/neurodegeration. So far, the lack of understanding of the precise molecular mechanism involved in CBD pharmacological actions, has had limited interest and has puzzled investigators.

Currently, findings of the present study throw some light on the issue, and frame CBD as a new PPARγ activator.”

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The role of the immune system in clearance of Abeta from the brain.

“In Alzheimer’s disease (AD), there is abnormal accumulation of Abeta and tau proteins in the brain. There is an associated immunological response, but it is still unclear whether this is beneficial or harmful. Inflammation in AD, specifically in the form of microglial activation, has, for many years, been considered to contribute to disease progression. However, two types of evidence suggest that it may be appropriate to revise this view: first, the disappointing results of prospective clinical trials of anti-inflammatory agents and, second, the observation that microglia can clear plaques in AD following Abeta immunization. Although Abeta immunization alters AD pathology, there is limited evidence so far of benefit to cognitive function. Immunization against microorganisms is almost always used as a method of disease prevention rather than to treat a disease process that has already started. In animal models, immunotherapy at an early age can protect against Abeta accumulation and it will be interesting to see if this can usefully be applied to humans to prevent AD.”

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Role of CB2 receptors in neuroprotective effects of cannabinoids.

“CB2 receptors, the so-called peripheral cannabinoid receptor type, were first described in the immune system, but they have been recently identified in the brain in healthy conditions and, in particular, after several types of cytotoxic stimuli. Specifically, CB2 receptors were identified in microglial cells, astrocytes and, to a lesser extent, in certain subpopulations of neurons.

Given the lack of psychoactivity demonstrated by selective CB2 receptor agonists, this receptor becomes an interesting target for the treatment of neurological diseases, in particular, the case of certain neurodegenerative disorders in which induction/up-regulation of CB2 receptors has been already demonstrated. These disorders include Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s chorea, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and others. Interestingly, in experimental models of these disorders, the activation of CB2 receptors has been related to a delayed progression of neurodegenerative events, in particular, those related to the toxic influence of microglial cells on neuronal homeostasis.

 The present article will review the evidence supporting that CB2 receptors might represent a key element in the endogenous response against different types of cytotoxic events, and that this receptor type may be a clinically promising target for the control of brain damage in neurodegenerative disorders.”

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Stimulation of cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2) suppresses microglial activation

“Activated microglial cells have been implicated in a number of neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD), multiple sclerosis (MS), and HIV dementia. Many data reveal that cannabinoids mediate suppression of inflammation in vitro and in vivo through stimulation of cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2).

Taken together, these results provide mechanistic insight into beneficial effects provided by cannabinoid receptor CB2 modulation in neurodegenerative diseases, particularly AD.”

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Medicinal plants and Alzheimer’s disease: from ethnobotany to phytotherapy.

“The use of complementary medicines, such as plant extracts, in dementia therapy varies according to the different cultural traditions. In orthodox Western medicine, contrasting with that in China and the Far East for example, pharmacological properties of traditional cognitive- or memory-enhancing plants have not been widely investigated in the context of current models of Alzheimer’s disease. An exception is Gingko biloba in which the gingkolides have antioxidant, neuroprotective and cholinergic activities relevant to Alzheimer’s disease mechanisms. The therapeutic efficacy of Ginkgo extracts in Alzheimer’s disease in placebo controlled clinical trials is reportedly similar to currently prescribed drugs such as tacrine or donepezil and, importantly, undesirable side effects of Gingko are minimal. Old European reference books, such as those on medicinal herbs, document a variety of other plants such as Salvia officinalis (sage) and Melissa officinalis (balm) with memory-improving properties, and cholinergic activities have recently been identified in extracts of these plants. Precedents for modern discovery of clinically relevant pharmacological activity in plants with long-established medicinal use include, for example, the interaction of alkaloid opioids in Papaver somniferum (opium poppy) with endogenous opiate receptors in the brain. With recent major advances in understanding the neurobiology of Alzheimer’s disease, and as yet limited efficacy of so-called rationally designed therapies, it may be timely to re-explore historical archives for new directions in drug development. This article considers not only the value of an integrative traditional and modern scientific approach to developing new treatments for dementia, but also in the understanding of disease mechanisms. Long before the current biologically-based hypothesis of cholinergic derangement in Alzheimer’ s disease emerged, plants now known to contain cholinergic antagonists were recorded for their amnesia- and dementia-inducing properties.”

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Cannabidiol and other cannabinoids reduce microglial activation in vitro and in vivo: relevance to Alzheimer’s disease.

“Microglial activation is an invariant feature of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). It is noteworthy that cannabinoids are neuroprotective by preventing β-amyloid (Aβ)-induced microglial activation both in vitro and in vivo… the phytocannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) has shown anti-inflammatory properties in different paradigms…

Cannabinoids, whether plant-derived, synthetic, or endocannabinoids, exert their functions through activation of cannabinoid receptors, two of which have been well characterized to date: CB1 and CB2. Cannabinoids are neuroprotective against excitotoxicity and acute brain damage, both in vitro and in vivo. Several mechanisms account for the neuroprotection afforded by this type of drug such as blockade of excitotoxicity, reduction of calcium influx, antioxidant properties of the compounds, or enhanced trophic factor support. A decrease in proinflammatory mediators brought about by cannabinoids may be also involved in their neuroprotection… Cannabidiol (CBD), the major plant-derived nonpsychotropic constituent of marijuana, is of potential therapeutic interest in different disease conditions (e.g., inflammation)…

…this kind of drug with neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects may be of interest in the prevention of AD inflammation, in particular CB2-selective agonists, which are devoid of psychoactive effects…

Cannabidiol and other cannabinoids reduce microglial activation in vitro and in vivo…

CBD is able to modulate microglial cell function in vitro and induce beneficial effects in an in vivo model of AD.

Given that CBD lacks psychoactivity, it may represent a novel therapeutic approach for this neurological disease.”

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Intact cannabinoid CB1 receptors in the Alzheimer’s disease cortex.

“The cannabinoid CB1 receptor has gained much attention as a potential pharmacotherapeutic target in various neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Our study suggests that CB1 receptors are intact in AD and may play a role in preserving cognitive function.

 Therefore, CB1 receptors should be further assessed as a potential therapeutic target in AD.”

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Cannabinoids and neurodegenerative diseases.

“Although significant advances have taken place in recent years on our understanding of the molecular mechanisms of different neurodegenerative diseases, its translation into effective therapeutic treatments has not been as successful as could be expected. There is still a dramatic lack of curative treatments for the most frequent disorders and only symptomatic relief for many others. Under this perspective, the search for novel therapeutic approaches is demanding and significant attention and efforts have been directed to studying additional neurotransmission systems including the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

The neuroprotective properties of exogenous as well as endogenous cannabinoids have been known for years and the underlying molecular mechanisms have been recently unveiled. As discussed later, antioxidative, antiglutamatergic and antiinflammatory effects are now recognized as derived from cannabinoid action and are known to be of common interest for many neurodegenerative processes.

 Thus, these characteristics make cannabinoids attractive candidates for the development of novel therapeutic strategies.

 The present review will focus on the existing data regarding the possible usefulness of cannabinoid agents for the treatment of relevant neurological pathologies for our society such as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.”

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