The “marijuana receptor” might hold the key to new fertility treatments for men.
New research appearing in the Journal FASEB suggests that the cannabinoid receptor, CB2, helps to regulate the production of sperm in men. CB2 is one of two G-protein coupled receptors that are influenced by the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
The latest study provided more substantial evidence that marijuana could disrupt male fertility by interfering with the CB2 receptor. The authors of the study also suggested a therapeutic strategy for treating male infertility by targeting the CB2 receptor with specific chemical agonists.
Paola Grimaldi, the lead researcher on the project from the University of Rome Tor Vergata School of Medicine, said in a statement, “The possibility to improve male fertility is one of the main focuses of this study, since infertility is a worldwide problem that affect [sic] up to 15 percent of couples in which male factors account for almost 20-70 percent."
In the study, Grimaldi and colleagues treated three groups of mice with different chemical agents for 14 to 21 days. The first group of mice was treated with a specific activator of the CB2 receptor, the second group was treated with a specific inhibitor of the CB2 receptor, while the third group received only a saline solution and served as the control group.
The mice treated with the CB2 activator demonstrated accelerated spermatogenesis, the biological process of sperm production, while the group treated with the inhibitor displayed a slower rate of the same process. This suggests that a tight balance of CB2 activation is required for the proper progression of spermatogenesis, according to the researchers.
"That the normal beneficial effects of endogenous cannabinoids on spermatogenesis can be stimulated further by a chemical mimic, an agonist, is a potentially promising new idea for treating male infertility," Thoru Pederson, Professor of Cell Biology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal, said in a statement.
The researchers hope their latest revelation will help them develop specific drugs to regulate the CB2 receptor activation, which could lead to increased spermatogenesis, hence improving fertility in affected individuals.
The findings of the study were reported in the journal FASEB.