Health Care

USC research continues to uncover possible medical benefits of marijuana component

Research into the impact of the principal ingredient in marijuana at the molecular level on diseases keeps leading University of South Carolina researchers to new possibilities.

The latest study, published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry, deals with the impact of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on a recently discovered class of molecules called microRNA.

RNA, or ribonucleic acid, plays an important role in how genes work. MicroRNA are small RNA molecule that plays a role in regulations of genes. Altering microRNA to be more or less active can help treat diseases such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis and diabetes.

Researchers at the USC School of Medicine, under the leadership of Prakash Nagarkatti and Mitzi Nagarkatti, have been studying the effect of THC on autoimmune diseases for more than a decade. In the latest study, researcher Venkatesh Hegde’s team injected lab mice with THC and then analyzed the impact on 609 different microRNAs. They found 13 microRNAs that were highly altered by the THC.

But because some genes suppress inflammation while other genes encourage inflammation, the key is to determine which microRNAs to turn up and which ones to turn down to impact certain genes and, thus, certain diseases.

The next step of the USC study focused on one microRNA, and a strong link was found between that microRNA and the suppression of inflammation. The researchers believe the study could serve as one building block for a new line of research into cancer and inflammatory diseases.