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Marijuana Could Potentially Treat Autoimmune Disorders

Update Date: Nov 25, 2013 11:02 AM EST

With marijuana becoming legalized in some states within the United States, finding out whether or not this drug could treat physical and/or mental diseases is important. In a new study conducted by researchers from the University of South Carolina, the team reported that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the main active ingredient found in marijuana, has the potential to treat autoimmune disorders.

In this study, the researchers utilized lab rats in order to study how microRNAs are affected by THC. MicroRNAs are tiny molecules that are a part of a class of non-coding RNAs. They influence the regulation of gene expression. When microRNAs are normal, they suppress the expression of genes. Once these molecules are overexpressed, the genes no longer express themselves. When microRNAs are turned off, the genes then become expressed at an increased level.

The team first injected the rats with THC and examined a set of 609 microRNAs. Out of hundreds microRNAs, the researchers reported that 13 of them were greatly affected by THC. One particular microRNA, called miRNA-690, which is linked to protein C/EBPa, was overexpressed due to THC. THC caused miRNA-690 to trigger cells known as MDSC, which suppressed inflammation. When the researchers targeted miRNA-690, they were able to reverse the effects of THC, which helped prevent the molecule from suppressing inflammation. When inflammation is suppressed, the body becomes more susceptible to certain illnesses. The researchers concluded that the effects of THC could be either positive or negative. On one hand, THC contributes to the suppression of inflammation, while on the other hand, THC can be used as treatment against inflammatory or autoimmune diseases.

"MicroRNA therapeutics is an important, rapidly growing area with major pharmaceutical companies getting into this discovery and development," Mitzi Nagarkatti, one of the study's lead authors, 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."

The study was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

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