Two fields that I have a passion for are neuroscience and the biochemistry of lipid signaling. My group combines these fields to understand how lipid signaling drives changes in all aspects of neurophysiology through a systems neuroscience approach. One lipid signaling system currently being investigated centers on endogenous cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are lipids from the plant Cannabis, also known as marijuana.
Cannabinoid compounds activate receptors throughout the body and the nervous system and regulate a myriad of neurophysiological pathways. These receptors did not evolve to prepare for the likelihood that an organism would someday ingest compounds from a cannabis plant. They evolved in concert with endogenous signaling molecules that are collectively called endocannabinoids. The most studied of these are the lipid signaling molecules, Anandamide and 2-arachidonoyl glycerol. However, there is growing evidence that these two lipids are not alone in exerting cannabimimetic (cannabinoid-like) effects in the body. Many of these novel endocannabinoid analogs are produced throughout the nervous system.
Interestingly, Anandamide is arguably the world’s most famous molecule in a very specific class of molecules structurally referred to as N-acyl amides. While it is true that N-acyl amides are not yet particularly well known throughout scientific communities, we will argue that they are quite well known throughout all of the plant and animal kingdoms in that they are ubiquitous molecules that are formed from simple fatty acids and amines and are likely present in most-if not all-forms of life. This presence provides an opportunistic situation for them to be used as signaling molecules and as metabolic precursors to additional signaling molecules. How they are synthesized, metabolized, and what they do in each of these systems is largely unknown.
ARE they doing in the brain and body?! Well… that’s what we are in the process
of finding out. One of our primary techniques we use in order to study these endogenous lipids is through mass spectrometry. The picture at the top of the page shows a partial view of the internal core of one of the tandem mass spectrometers we have used in our studies over the years. Combining an expertise in lipid mass spectrometry and neuroscience is a powerful combination that allows us to work with collaborators from around the world and to ultimately come to new and exciting discoveries about the field of lipid neuroscience.