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Cannabinoids and Parkinson's Disease

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Cannabinoid-based medicines have been proposed as clinically promising therapies in Parkinson's disease (PD), given the prominent modulatory function played by the cannabinoid signaling system in the basal ganglia. Supporting this pharmacological potential, the cannabinoid signaling system experiences a biphasic pattern of changes during the progression of PD. Thus, early and presymptomatic stages, characterized by neuronal malfunctioning but little evidence of neuronal death, are associated with desensitization/downregulation of CB1 receptors. It was proposed that these losses may be part of the pathogenesis itself, since they can aggravate different cytotoxic insults which are controlled in part by cannabinoid signals, mainly excitotoxicity but also oxidative stress and glial activation. By contrast, intermediate and, in particular, advanced stages of parkinsonism characterized by a profound nigral degeneration and occurrence of major parkinsonian symptoms (e.g. bradykinesia), are associated with upregulatory responses of CB1 receptors, possibly CB2 receptors too, and the endocannabinoid ligands for both receptor types. This would explain the motor inhibition typical of this disease and the potential proposed for CB1 receptor antagonists in attenuating the bradykinesia typical of PD. In addition, certain cannabinoid agonists have been proposed to serve as neuroprotective molecules in PD, given their well-demonstrated capability to reduce excitotoxicity, calcium influx, glial activation and, in particular, oxidative injury that cooperatively contribute to the degeneration of nigral neurons. However, the potential of cannabinoid-based medicines in PD have been still scarcely studied at the clinical level despite the existence of solid and promising preclinical evidence. Considering the relevance of these preclinical data, the need for finding treatments for motor symptoms that may be alternative to classic dopaminergic replacement therapy, and the lack of efficient neuroprotective strategies in PD, we believe it is of major interest to develop further studies that allow the promising expectations generated for these molecules to progress from the present preclinical evidence towards a real clinical application.





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Keywords: CB1 receptors; CB2 receptors; Cannabinoids; Parkinson's disease; basal ganglia; cannabinoid signaling system; motor inhibition; neurodegeneration; neuroprotection

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2009

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  • CNS & Neurological Disorders - Drug Targets aims to cover all the latest and outstanding developments on the medicinal chemistry, pharmacology, molecular biology, genomics and biochemistry of contemporary molecular targets involved in neurological and central nervous system (CNS) disorders e.g. disease specific proteins, receptors, enzymes, genes. Each issue of the journal will contain a series of timely in-depth reviews written by leaders in the field covering a range of current topics on drug targets involved in neurological and CNS disorders. As the discovery, identification, characterization and validation of novel human drug targets for neurological and CNS drug discovery continues to grow; this journal will be essential reading for all pharmaceutical scientists involved in drug discovery and development.
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