Rebekah Eliason for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
New research has found evidence that THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), a principal component of marijuana, could be a beneficial treatment for autoimmune disorders.
This is the first study of its kind to investigate how powerful little molecules known as microRNAs are affected by THC. RNAs are biological molecules that are important in coding, decoding, regulation and expression of genes. MicroRNAs were only recently discovered and are a type of non-coding RNAs responsible for regulating gene expression. If THC alters microRNA expression, it could be a vital component for the treatment of multiple autoimmune diseases including arthritis, multiple sclerosis and Type 1 diabetes.
This study was executed through injection of laboratory mice with THC. A total of 609 mice microRNAs were analyzed. Of these, researchers discovered thirteen unique microRNAs that were significantly altered by THC.
MicroRNAs are extremely important in the immune system and function as “brakes” to target over 60 percent of the entire gene expression. Usually microRNAs suppress gene expression but when it becomes over expressed the result is gene silence. Conversely, when microRNA is shut off, the specific gene affected becomes expressed at a higher level.
The researchers also studied how miRNA-690, a specific microRNA, functionally targets a vital protein known as c/EBPa when over-expressed due to THC interference. The protein molecule is able to trigger the unique cells called MDSC, which have the special ability to suppress inflammation. The effects of THC were reversed when miRNA-690 was successfully brought down.
For more than a decade lead authors Drs. Prakash and Mitzi Nagarkatti have studied the effect marijuana has in altering immune function and inflammation. It was their research that first showed marijuana components can trigger MDSC to suppress inflammation.
This current study was completed by Dr. Venkatesh Hegde in combination with other team members. They discovered that marijuana can act in counterproductive ways by suppressing inflammation, which increases vulnerability to some diseases but also works as a successful treatment against inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
Dr. Mitzi Nagarkatti explained how understanding of micoRNA expression is a remarkable step in potential medical breakthroughs.
“MicroRNA therapeutics is an important, rapidly growing area with major pharmaceutical companies getting into this discovery and development,” Nagarkatti said. “While our study identifies the molecular mechanism of immune-altering effects of marijuana, select microRNA identified here could serve as important molecular targets to manipulate MDSC activity in cancer and inflammatory diseases.”