Increasing levels of a marijuana-like compound in the brain may help reduce some behavioral problems seen in people with Fragile X Syndrome.

Researchers say that the marijuana-like compound may help reduce some of the anxiety and learning-related issues in people with this condition. The compound, called 2-AG, falls under a class of chemicals in the brain called endocannabinoids transmitters. 

Endocannabinoids are produced naturally in the brain and are structurally similar to THC, the psychoactive agent in cannabis. These chemicals help with the information flow in the brain. People with fragile X chromosome have defects in information flow through the neurons in the brain, leading to cognitive impairment including mental disability and impaired development of speech.

Fragile X syndrome is a genetic disorder that causes learning disabilities. Children with this condition have characteristic physical features like long and narrow face, large forehead and ears, flexible fingers and flat feet that become more apparent as the child ages. The condition is caused by a change in the FMR1 gene that codes for a protein that helps the brain grow properly. A change in this gene, thus, results in the body producing too little of this protein and in some cases, none.

Since boys have just one X chromosome, they are more likely to be severely affected by this condition whereas girls have an additional X chromosome that can compensate for the defective chromosome.

In the study, researchers from UC Irvine and INSERM, the French national research agency, showed that by correcting the 2-AG protein signaling in brain cells, some of the problems associated with this condition can be reduced. The study involved mice models that had a defective FMR1 gene. The researchers treated the mice with compounds that corrected the signaling pathway. The treated mice showed lower behavioral problems than the untreated ones.

Not a cure for Fragile X Syndrome

Researchers say that the study shows a way to reduce certain problems associated with the condition and not necessarily a cure. "What we hope is to one day increase the ability of people with fragile X syndrome to socialize and engage in normal cognitive functions," says Daniele Piomelli, professor at the University of California, Irvine. 

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications