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Strewe, Claudia; Feuerecker, Matthias; Nichiporuk, Igor; Kaufmann, Ines; Hauer, Daniela; Morukov, Boris; Schelling, Gustav; Chouker, Alexander (2012): Effects of parabolic flight and spaceflight on the endocannabinoid system in humans. In: Reviews in the Neurosciences, Vol. 23, No. 5-6, SI: pp. 673-680


The endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays an important role in the regulation of physiological functions, from stress and memory regulation to vegetative control and immunity. The ECS is considered a central and peripheral stress response system to emotional or physical challenges and acts through endocannabinoids (ECs), which bind to their receptors inducing subsequent effecting mechanisms. In our studies, the ECS responses have been assessed through blood concentrations of the ECs anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol. In parallel, saliva cortisol was determined and the degree of perceived stress was quantified by questionnaires. This report summarizes the reactivity of the ECS in humans subjected to brief periods of kinetic stress and weightlessness during parabolic flights and to prolonged stress exposure during life onboard the International Space Station (ISS). Both conditions resulted in a significant increase in circulating ECs. Under the acute stress during parabolic flights, individuals who showed no evidence of motion sickness were in low-stress conditions and had a significant increase of plasma ECs. In contrast, highly stressed individuals with severe motion sickness had an absent EC response and a massive increase in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity. Likewise, chronic but well-tolerated exposure to weightlessness and emotional and environmental stressors on the ISS for 6 months resulted in a sustained increase in EC blood concentrations, which returned to baseline values after the cosmonauts' return. These preliminary results suggest that complex environmental stressors result in an increase of circulating ECs and that enhanced EC signaling is probably required for adaptation and tolerance under stressful conditions.