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Friday, May 9, 2008

Weight-loss drug damages your nervous system

Mark Bear and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology studied the effects of a chemical that suppresses appetite by blocking cannabinoid receptors in the brain, the same brain mechanisms that make people hungry when they smoke marijuana.

"I think that the cautionary note is that these mechanisms play an important role in ... brain development," said Bear, whose study appears in the journal Neuron.

Sanofi-Aventis' weight-loss pill rimonabant, also known as Zimulti and sold under the brand name Acomplia in Europe, is the first in this new class of drugs. A U.S. expert panel rejected it last June because of fears it might trigger suicidal thoughts.

Other drugmakers, including Merck & Co Inc, are working on similar drugs.

Bear's team at MIT was hoping to gain insight into how the brain adapts and rewires itself through learned experiences. This so-called plasticity is central to the development of neurons in the brain of children and young animals.

Bear said these cannabinoid receptors are known to regulate signals between neurons, and his team wanted to see if they would have an effect on plasticity in these young mice.

They were specifically testing learning in the visual cortex of the mouse, a part of the brain that processes information gathered from what they see.

Source: ucsfhealth.org

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