Autistic disorders (ADs) are heterogeneous neurodevelopmental disorders arised by the interaction of genes and environmental factors. Dysfunctions in social interaction and communication skills, repetitive and stereotypic verbal and non-verbal behaviours are common features of ADs. There are no defined mechanisms of pathogenesis, rendering curative therapy very difficult. Indeed, the treatments for autism presently available can be divided into behavioural, nutritional and medical approaches, although no defined standard approach exists. Autistic children display immune system dysregulation and show an altered immune response of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs). In this study, we investigated the involvement of cannabinoid system in PBMCs from autistic children compared to age-matched normal healthy developing controls (age ranging 3-9 years; mean age: 6.06 ± 1.52 vs. 6.14 ± 1.39 in autistic children and healthy subjects, respectively). The mRNA level for cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB2) was significantly increased in AD-PBMCs as compared to healthy subjects (mean ± SE of arbitrary units: 0.34 ± 0.03 vs. 0.23 ± 0.02 in autistic children and healthy subjects, respectively), whereas CB1 and fatty acid amide hydrolase mRNA levels were unchanged. mRNA levels of N-acylphosphatidylethanolamine-hydrolyzing phospholipase D gene were slightly decreased. Protein levels of CB-2 were also significantly increased in autistic children (mean ± SE of arbitrary units: 33.5 ± 1.32 vs. 6.70 ± 1.25 in autistic children and healthy subjects, respectively). Our data indicate CB2 receptor as potential therapeutic target for the pharmacological management of the autism care. facial expressions are innate social rewards and evoke a response in the striatum, a region known for its role in reward processing in rats, primates and humans. The cannabinoid receptor 1 (CNR1) is the best-characterized molecule of the endocannabinoid system, involved in processing rewards. We hypothesized that genetic variation in human CNR1 gene would predict differences in the striatal response to happy faces. In a 3T functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning study on 19 Caucasian volunteers, we report that four single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the CNR1 locus modulate differential striatal response to happy but not to disgust faces. This suggests a role for the variations of the CNR1 gene in underlying social reward responsivity. Future studies should aim to replicate this finding with a balanced design in a larger sample, but these preliminary results suggest neural responsivity to emotional and socially rewarding stimuli varies as a function of CNR1 genotype. This has implications for medical conditions involving hypo-responsivity to emotional and social stimuli, such as autism. spectrum disorders (ASDs) are heterogenous neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by impairment in social, communication skills and stereotype behaviors. While autism may be uniquely human, there are behavioral characteristics in ASDs that can be mimicked using animal models. We used the BTBR T+tf/J mice that have been shown to exhibit autism-like behavioral phenotypes to 1). Evaluate cannabinoid-induced behavioral changes using forced swim test (FST) and spontaneous wheel running (SWR) activity and 2). Determine the behavioral and neurochemical changes after the administration of MDMA (20 mg/kg), methamphetamine (10 mg/kg) or MPTP (20 mg/kg). We found that the BTBR mice exhibited an enhanced basal spontaneous locomotor behavior in the SWR test and a reduced depressogenic profile. These responses appeared to be enhanced by the prototypic cannabinoid, Δ(9)-THC. MDMA and MPTP at the doses used did not modify SWR behavior in the BTBR mice whereas MPTP reduced SWR activity in the control CB57BL/6J mice. In the hippocampus, striatum and frontal cortex, the levels of DA and 5-HT and their metabolites were differentially altered in the BTBR and C57BL/6J mice. Our data provides a basis for further studies in evaluating the role of the cannabinoid and monoaminergic systems in the etiology of ASDs.

Cannabis -vs- Autism