Study Spotlight #17: THC Inhibits an Enzyme That Promotes Tumor Growth
Naturally occurring enzymes speed up life-sustaining reactions within a living organism. These macromolecules, primarily composed of proteins, facilitate thousands of specific processes the human body needs to maintain health and well-being. For instance, the digestive enzymes amylase breaks down starch, and lipase digests fat. When we lack sufficient digestive enzymes, we disrupt normal enzyme signaling and experience poor nutritional uptake, weight gain, skin problems, or mood disorders.
So, when something goes wrong and normal enzyme signaling is disrupted or out of balance, enzymes can accelerate the growth of illness and disease instead of maintaining our health and healing. This brings us to the more specific aspect of this article, which highlights the ability of THC to inhibit an enzyme-signaling pathway that may be involved in the spread of certain cancers and other conditions. So, let’s take a closer look.
The enzyme in question is autotaxin (ATX), a multifunctional enzyme that regulates various physiological and pathological processes in the human body. ATX converts lysophosphatidylcholine (LPC) into lysophosphatidic acid (LPA), forming what’s referred to as the ATX-LPA signaling axis. Healthy ATX-LPA signaling is necessary to establish an optimal balance of fats (lipid homeostasis). In contrast, unhealthy ATX-LPA signaling increases the risk of developing certain cancers (e.g., breast, melanoma, breast, ovarian, and brain)1 but also plays a role in immune-mediated conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and atherosclerosis.
Given its significance in various pathological conditions, targeting the ATX-LPA signaling axis has emerged as a promising strategy for therapeutic intervention. Accordingly, several inhibitors have been developed to modulate ATX activity, with some showing promising results in preclinical studies.
Now a team of researchers working at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (2023)2 discovered a new mechanism by which THC, the main mind-altering ingredient in cannabis, can inhibit or block the action of ATX and, as such, may represent a novel approach by which to optimize ATX-LPA signaling.
Supported by previous research results indicating that several cannabinoids, including THC, have shown degrees of efficacy in the treatment of a diverse group of cancers as well as immune-mediated conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and atherosclerosis, these most recent findings may point to a new understanding of how these therapeutic effects of this cannabis constituent are realized at the molecular level.
1. Samadi, N., Bekele, R., Capatos, D., Venkatraman, G., Sariahmetoglu, M., & Brindley, D. N. (2011). Regulation of lysophosphatidate signaling by autotaxin and lipid phosphate phosphatases concerning tumor progression, angiogenesis, metastasis, and chemo-resistance. Biochimie, 93(1), 61–70.
2. Eymery, M. C., McCarthy, A. A., & Hausmann, J. (2023). Linking medicinal cannabis to autotaxin-lysophosphatidic acid signaling. Life science alliance, 6(2), e202201595.