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Changes in cannabinoid receptor binding and mRNA levels in several brain regions of a

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We have recently found that cannabinoid receptor binding and gene expression markedly decreased in extrapyramidal structures of aged rats. The present study was designed to analyze the possible existence of similar aging-induced changes in cannabinoid receptor binding and gene expression in brain regions other than extrapyramidal areas, but that also contain a significant population of cannabinoid receptors, such as the cerebellum, hippocampal structures, limbic and hypothalamic nuclei, the cerebral cortex and others. To this end, we analyzed cannabinoid receptor binding, using autoradiography, and cannabinoid receptor mRNA levels, using in situ hybridization, in slide-mounted brain sections obtained from young (3 month old) and aged (> 2 year old) rats. Results were as follows. In the cerebellum, aged rats exhibited a marked decrease in cannabinoid receptor binding in the molecular layer (-33.3%), although accompanied by no changes in mRNA levels in the granular layer. In the cerebral cortex, a small, although statistically significant, decrease in binding was found in the deep layer (VI) (-18.3%) of aged rats, whereas no changes were found in the superficial layer (I). As in the case of the cerebellum, mRNA levels did not change in the cerebral cortex layers (II-III and V-VI). The different regions of the Ammon's horn of the hippocampus exhibited similar cannabinoid receptor binding levels in aged and young rats. Interestingly, mRNA levels decreased in aged rats to a small, but statistically significant, extent (CA1: -26.1%; CA2: -21.6%; CA3: -14.4%). This was also seen in another hippocampal structure, the dentate gyrus (-14.6%), although in this region binding levels increased in aged rats (+28.4%). Two hypothalamic structures, the arcuate nucleus and the ventromedial hypothalamic nucleus, exhibited decreased cannabinoid receptor binding in aged rats (-31.1% and -30.3%, respectively), but this was not seen in the medial preoptic area. This was accompanied by no changes in mRNA levels in the ventromedial hypothalamic nucleus. In the limbic structures, aged rats exhibited similar binding levels to young rats. This was seen in the nucleus accumbens, septum nuclei and basolateral amygdaloid nucleus. However, mRNA levels slightly decreased in the basolateral amygdaloid nucleus (-13.4%), whereas they were not altered in the septum nuclei. Finally, other brain structures, such as the central gray substance and the brainstem, exhibited similar binding levels in aged and young rats. However, it is important to note that mRNA levels increased significantly (+211.2%) in the brainstem of aged rats, an area where the levels of binding and mRNA were very low in young rats. This marked increase may be related to an increase in the presence of glial elements in this region, as revealed by the increase in the immunoreactivity for glial fibrillary acidic protein observed in the brainstem of aged rats as compared to young animals. In summary, senescence was associated with changes in cannabinoid receptors in the cerebellum, the cerebral cortex, limbic and hypothalamic structures, the hippocampus and other brain regions. However, the changes observed (i) were not as marked and relevant as those early reported in extrapyramidal areas, and (ii) exhibited regional differences that might be attributed to the different roles played by these receptors in each region. Of particular relevance by their magnitude were the aging-induced decrease in binding found in the cerebellum and the hypothalamus, and the increase in mRNA levels observed in the brainstem. The latter might be related to an increase in the presence of glial cells which might contain cannabinoid receptor mRNA.

Source: Pubmed.gov