Original Paper

European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience

, Volume 259, Issue 7, pp 371-382

First online:

The endocannabinoid system and the regulation of neural development: potential implications in psychiatric disorders

  • Ismael Galve-RoperhAffiliated withDepartment of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology I, School of Biology and Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red sobre Enfermedades Neurodegenerativas (CIBERNED), Complutense University Email author 
  • , Javier PalazuelosAffiliated withDepartment of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology I, School of Biology and Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red sobre Enfermedades Neurodegenerativas (CIBERNED), Complutense University
  • , Tania AguadoAffiliated withDepartment of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology I, School of Biology and Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red sobre Enfermedades Neurodegenerativas (CIBERNED), Complutense University
  • , Manuel GuzmánAffiliated withDepartment of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology I, School of Biology and Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red sobre Enfermedades Neurodegenerativas (CIBERNED), Complutense University Email author 

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Abstract

During brain development, functional neurogenesis is achieved by the concerted action of various steps that include the expansion of progenitor cells, neuronal specification, and establishment of appropriate synapses. Brain patterning and regionalization is regulated by a variety of extracellular signals and morphogens that, together with neuronal activity, orchestrate and regulate progenitor proliferation, differentiation, and neuronal maturation. In the adult brain, CB1 cannabinoid receptors are expressed at very high levels in selective areas and are engaged by endocannabinoids, which act as retrograde messengers controlling neuronal function and preventing excessive synaptic activity. In addition, the endocannabinoid system is present at early developmental stages of nervous system formation. Recent studies have provided novel information on the role of this endogenous neuromodulatory system in the control of neuronal specification and maturation. Thus, cannabinoid receptors and locally produced endocannabinoids regulate neural progenitor proliferation and pyramidal specification of projecting neurons. CB1 receptors also control axonal navigation, migration, and positioning of interneurons and excitatory neurons. Loss of function studies by genetic ablation or pharmacological blockade of CB1 receptors interferes with long-range subcortical projections and, likewise, prenatal cannabinoid exposure induces different functional alterations in the adult brain. Potential implications of these new findings, such as the participation of the endocannabinoid system in the pathogenesis of neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g., schizophrenia) and the regulation of neurogenesis in brain depression, are discussed herein.

Keywords

Cortical development Endocannabinoid system Neural progenitor Neurogenesis