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 are 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 body and likely play important roles in pathophysiology.
Anandamide is arguably the world’s most famous molecule in a largely unknown class of molecules that are formed from the conjugation of simple fatty acids and amines (aka Lipoamines).
While it is true that Lipoamines 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 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 for a variety of processes. Our work has shown that many of them are part of the signaling system of thermoregulation and that these endogenous lipoamines share these properties with some of the lipids from the Cannabis plant.
There is growing interest in how “Medical Cannabis” may work as a therapeutic for disease. One important fact to know is that unlike drugs you purchase from the pharmacy that are typically a single specialized chemical, Cannabis contains potentially 100’s of active compounds. It is no wonder that there is confusion about how this might work. Emerging work from my lab is aimed at using different animal and cellular models of disease and testing specific compounds from the Cannabis plant to gain a broader understanding of how it might be possible to isolate the potential benefits of Cannabis-based therapeutics.
One of the 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, neuroscience, and a variety of disease models 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.