NEW YORK, April 20 (UPI) -- Endocannabinoids, compounds chemically similar to the active ingredient in marijuana, play a role in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, U.S. researchers say.
Study leader Balapal S. Basavarajappa of the Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research and New York state Psychiatric Institute investigated the effect of alcohol on the endocannabinoid system and how those effects influence brain development in mice.
The molecules and receptors that comprise the body's endocannabinoid system work together to affect physiological processes such as brain development, appetite, pain, mood, and memory -- the very processes also affected by using marijuana, Basavarajappa said.
The researchers exposed 7-day-old mice to binge-like amounts of alcohol to examine the resulting changes in the brain's structure and functions. In terms of brain development, this is comparable to exposing a human in the third trimester of fetal development to alcohol, the researchers said.
The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, found endocannabinoid anandamide and its receptor, CB1, both increase in response to alcohol.
"Understanding the mechanism leading to the neurodegeneration that underlies the development of FASD is a critical step in developing novel treatments to block alcohol-induced neurotoxicity in the developing brain," Basavarajappa said in a statement.