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Laureate of the 2005 ATIP-Avenir program


 Are endocannabinoids the key to behavioral adaptability?

Giovanni Marsicano’s team is deciphering the neuromolecular mechansims that modulate our behaviors.

Cannabis acts on the nervous system through a group of receptors that fix its active components. These receptors’ primary role is to bind the endogenous molecules known as endocannabinoids, fatty acids that modulate the release of neurotransmitters in the brain.

Discovered relatively recently, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) remains a mystery. It is being explored by Giovanni Marsicano at Neurocentre Magendie in Bordeaux and the team he has built with the support of the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation. This “endocannabinoids and neuroadaptation” group aims to understand the molecular bases for behavioral adaptation. Anxiety, fear, and food intake are all modulated by this system, and the researchers are studying the development of obesity by developing transgenic mouse models.

ECS is the only system that responds positively to anti-obesity drug treatments in humans. Giovanni Marsicano’s team is following an integrated research approach, analyzing the behavioral, neuroendocrine and metabolic steps that lead to excessive weight gain, from the fatty diet fed to mutant mice to the development of fat tissues. The evaluation of biomarkers in the mice could enable the development of diagnosis tools to improve one-on-one treatment for human obesity.



A trained veterinarian, Giovanni Marsicano started researching the endocannabinoid system while studying for his PhD in science. Later, at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, he made an important contribution to the field. In particular, he discovered that the endocannabinoid system controlled the erasure of bad memories and that CB1 receptors played a role in protecting neurons against excitotoxicity. During his work at Magendie Neurocenter in Bordeaux, Giovanni Marsicano revealed the mechanism through which cannabinoids mediate pain. His research on mouse development has also shown that endocannabinoids impact connectivity in the developing brain. Most recently, he contributed to the discovery of pregnenolone, a molecule capable of protecting the brain against cannabis intoxication. This could become the first pharmacological treatment for addiction to this drug.

  • 1992Doctorate in veterinary medicine
  • 2001Doctorate in Neurobiology, Open University (United Kingdom)
  • 2001 - 2004Postdoctoral Researcher, Max Planck Institute, Munich (Germany)
  • 2005 - 2006Junior Professor, Department of Physiological Chemistry, Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz (Germany)
  • 2005Laureate of the Avenir program at Inserm in partnership with the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation
  • Since 2006Principal Investigator, endocannabinoids and neuroadaptation team, Neurocentre Magendie, Bordeaux (France)
  • 2006 - 2012First-Class Researcher, Inserm (France)
  • 2007Award for Young Investigators, International Association for Cannabis as Medicine
  • Since 2012Second-Class Research Director, Inserm (France)
  • 2012 Grand Prix Robert Debré for fundamental research