The endocannabinoid system as a target for the treatment of motor dysfunction


  • Javier Fernández-Ruiz

    1. Departamento de Bioquímica y Biología Molecular and Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red sobre Enfermedades Neurodegenerativas (CIBERNED), Facultad de Medicina, Universidad Complutense, Madrid, Spain
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Javier Fernández-Ruiz, Departamento de Bioquímica y Biología Molecular III, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad Complutense, Ciudad Universitaria s/n, Madrid 28040, Spain. E-mail: or


There is evidence that cannabinoid-based medicines that are selective for different targets in the cannabinoid signalling system (e.g. receptors, inactivation mechanism, enzymes) might be beneficial in basal ganglia disorders, namely Parkinson's disease (PD) and Huntington's disease (HD). These benefits not only include the alleviation of specific motor symptoms [e.g. choreic movements with cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1)/transient receptor potential vanilloid type 1 agonists in HD; bradykinesia with CB1 antagonists and tremor with CB1 agonists in PD], but also the delay of disease progression due to the neuroprotective properties demonstrated for cannabinoids (e.g. CB1 agonists reduce excitotoxicity; CB2 agonists limit the toxicity of reactive microglia; and antioxidant cannabinoids attenuate oxidative damage). In addition, extensive biochemical, anatomical, physiological and pharmacological studies have demonstrated that: (i) the different elements of the cannabinoid system are abundant in basal ganglia structures and they are affected by these disorders; (ii) the cannabinoid system plays a prominent role in basal ganglia function by modulating the neurotransmitters that operate in the basal ganglia circuits, both in healthy and pathological conditions; and (iii) the activation and/or inhibition of the cannabinoid system is associated with important motor responses that are maintained and even enhanced in conditions of malfunctioning and/or degeneration. In this article we will review the available data regarding the relationship between the cannabinoid system and basal ganglia activity, both in healthy and pathological conditions and will also try to identify future lines of research expected to increase current knowledge about the potential therapeutic benefits of targeting this system in PD, HD and other basal ganglia disorders.