Crystal Structure of the Human Cannabinoid Receptor CB1
© Ashley Rosenberg/EyeEm/Getty
How do you get high? It may sound like a stoner question, but the way in which the psychoactive agent in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), engages its target receptor in the brain has long puzzled scientists.
A US-China study co-led by investigators from ShanghaiTech University now provides an answer to this marijuana mystery.
The researchers applied powerful X-rays to a crystallized form of the cannabinoid receptor CB1 tethered to a chemical that, like THC, fits in the receptor like a hand in a glove. They then used the resulting atomic structure to model how the sub-pockets and channels of CB1 interact with molecules that activate or block it.
The findings, reported in Cell, should enable scientists to develop new medications, free of side-effects, for conditions ranging from pain to obesity to substance addiction. They may also help explain why some synthetic forms of cannabis are more dangerous than natural pot.
- Cell 167, 750–762.e14 (2016). doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2016.10.004