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Concept: Anandamide


The psychoactive component of the cannabis resin and flowers, delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), was first isolated in 1964, and at least 70 other structurally related ‘phytocannabinoid’ compounds have since been identified. The serendipitous identification of a G-protein-coupled cannabinoid receptor at which THC is active in the brain heralded an explosion in cannabinoid research. Elements of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) comprise the cannabinoid receptors, a family of nascent lipid ligands, the ‘endocannabinoids’ and the machinery for their biosynthesis and metabolism. The function of the ECS is thus defined by modulation of these receptors, in particular, by two of the best-described ligands, 2-arachidonoyl glycerol and anandamide (arachidonylethanolamide). Research on the ECS has recently aroused enormous interest not only for the physiological functions, but also for the promising therapeutic potentials of drugs interfering with the activity of cannabinoid receptors. Many of the former relate to stress-recovery systems and to the maintenance of homeostatic balance. Among other functions, the ECS is involved in neuroprotection, modulation of nociception, regulation of motor activity, neurogenesis, synaptic plasticity and the control of certain phases of memory processing. In addition, the ECS acts to modulate the immune and inflammatory responses and to maintain a positive energy balance. This theme issue aims to provide the reader with an overview of ECS pharmacology, followed by discussions on the pivotal role of this system in the modulation of neurogenesis in the developing and adult organism, memory processes and synaptic plasticity, as well as in pathological pain and brain ageing. The volume will conclude with discussions that address the proposed therapeutic applications of targeting the ECS for the treatment of neurodegeneration, pain and mental illness.

Concepts: Receptor, Cannabinoid receptor, Tetrahydrocannabinol, Cannabis, Cannabidiol, Cannabinoids, Anandamide


Cannabis has been used to treat pain for thousands of years. However, since the early part of the 20th century, laws restricting cannabis use have limited its evaluation using modern scientific criteria. Over the last decade, the situation has started to change because of the increased availability of cannabis in the United States for either medical or recreational purposes, making it important to provide the public with accurate information as to the effectiveness of the drug for joint pain among other indications. The major psychotropic component of cannabis is Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), one of some 120 naturally occurring phytocannabinoids. Cannabidiol (CBD) is another molecule found in herbal cannabis in large amounts. Although CBD does not produce psychotropic effects, it has been shown to produce a variety of pharmacological effects. Hence, the overall effects of herbal cannabis represent the collective activity of THC, CBD and a number of minor components. The action of THC is mediated by two major G-protein coupled receptors, cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1) and CB2, and recent work has suggested that other targets may also exist. Arachidonic acid derived endocannabinoids are the normal physiological activators of the two cannabinoid receptors. Natural phytocannabinoids and synthetic derivatives have produced clear activity in a variety of models of joint pain in animals. These effects are the result of both inhibition of pain pathway signalling (mostly CB1) and anti-inflammatory effects (mostly CB2). There are also numerous anecdotal reports of the effectiveness of smoking cannabis for joint pain. Indeed, it is the largest medical request for the use of the drug. However, these reports generally do not extend to regulated clinical trials for rheumatic diseases. Nevertheless, the preclinical and human data that do exist indicate that the use of cannabis should be taken seriously as a potential treatment of joint pain.

Concepts: Signal transduction, Cannabinoid receptor, Tetrahydrocannabinol, Cannabis, Cannabidiol, Recreational drug use, Anandamide


Endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids) are small molecules biosynthesized from membrane glycerophospholipid. Anandamide (AEA) is an endogenous intestinal cannabinoid that controls appetite and energy balance by engagement of the enteric nervous system through cannabinoid receptors. Here, we uncover a role for AEA and its receptor, cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2), in the regulation of immune tolerance in the gut and the pancreas. This work demonstrates a major immunological role for an endocannabinoid. The pungent molecule capsaicin (CP) has a similar effect as AEA; however, CP acts by engagement of the vanilloid receptor TRPV1, causing local production of AEA, which acts through CB2. We show that the engagement of the cannabinoid/vanilloid receptors augments the number and immune suppressive function of the regulatory CX3CR1(hi) macrophages (Mϕ), which express the highest levels of such receptors among the gut immune cells. Additionally, TRPV1(-/-) or CB2(-/-) mice have fewer CX3CR1(hi) Mϕ in the gut. Treatment of mice with CP also leads to differentiation of a regulatory subset of CD4(+) cells, the Tr1 cells, in an IL-27-dependent manner in vitro and in vivo. In a functional demonstration, tolerance elicited by engagement of TRPV1 can be transferred to naïve nonobese diabetic (NOD) mice [model of type 1 diabetes (T1D)] by transfer of CD4(+) T cells. Further, oral administration of AEA to NOD mice provides protection from T1D. Our study unveils a role for the endocannabinoid system in maintaining immune homeostasis in the gut/pancreas and reveals a conversation between the nervous and immune systems using distinct receptors.

Concepts: Immune system, Diabetes mellitus type 1, Diabetes, Immunology, Receptor, Cannabinoid receptor, Cannabinoids, Anandamide


Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) occur naturally in marijuana (Cannabis) and may be formulated, individually or in combination in pharmaceuticals such as Marinol or Sativex. While it is known that these hydrophobic compounds can be transported in blood by albumin or lipoproteins, intracellular carrier have not been identified. Recent reports suggest that CBD and THC elevates the levels of the endocannabinoid anandamide (AEA) when administered to humans, suggesting that phytocannabinoids target cellular proteins involved in endocannabinoid clearance. Fatty acid binding proteins (FABPs) are intracellular proteins that mediate AEA transport to its catabolic enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH). By computational analysis and ligand displacement assays, we show that at least three human FABPs bind THC and CBD and we demonstrate that THC and CBD inhibit the cellular uptake and catabolism of AEA by targeting FABPs. Furthermore, we show that in contrast to rodent FAAH, CBD does not inhibit the enzymatic actions of human FAAH, and thus FAAH inhibition cannot account for the observed increase in circulating AEA in humans following CBD consumption. Using computational molecular docking and site-directed mutagenesis we identify key residues within the active site of FAAH that confer the species-specific sensitivity to inhibition by CBD. Competition for FABPs may in part or wholly explain the increased circulating levels of endocannabinoids reported after consumption of cannabinoids. These data shed light on the mechanism of action of CBD in modulating the endocannabinoid tone in vivo and may explain, in part, its reported efficacy towards epilepsy and other neurological disorders.

Concepts: Protein, Metabolism, Enzyme inhibitor, Tetrahydrocannabinol, Cannabis, Cannabidiol, Anandamide


Monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL) terminates the signaling function of the endocannabinoid, 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). During 2-AG hydrolysis, MAGL liberates arachidonic acid, feeding the principal substrate for the neuroinflammatory prostaglandins. In cancer cells, MAGL redirects lipid stores toward protumorigenic signaling lipids. Thus MAGL inhibitors may have great therapeutic potential. Although potent and increasingly selective MAGL inhibitors have been described, their number is still limited. Here, we have characterized piperazine and piperidine triazole ureas that combine the high potency attributable to the triazole leaving group together with the bulky aromatic benzodioxolyl moiety required for selectivity, culminating in compound JJKK-048 that potently (IC50 < 0.4 nM) inhibited human and rodent MAGL. JJKK-048 displayed low cross-reactivity with other endocannabinoid targets. Activity-based protein profiling of mouse brain and human melanoma cell proteomes suggested high specificity also among the metabolic serine hydrolases.

Concepts: Protein, Metabolism, Adenosine triphosphate, Fatty acid, Enzyme, Lipid, Prostaglandin, Anandamide


Several studies highlight a key involvement of endocannabinoid (EC) system in autism pathophysiology. The EC system is a complex network of lipid signaling pathways comprised of arachidonic acid-derived compounds (anandamide, AEA) and 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG), their G-protein-coupled receptors (cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2) and the associated enzymes. In addition to autism, the EC system is also involved in several other psychiatric disorders (i.e., anxiety, major depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia). This system is a key regulator of metabolic and cellular pathways involved in autism, such as food intake, energy metabolism and immune system control. Early studies in autism animal models have demonstrated alterations in the brain’s EC system. Autism is also characterized by immune system dysregulation. This alteration includes differential monocyte and macrophage responses, and abnormal cytokine and T cell levels. EC system dysfunction in a monocyte and macrophagic cellular model of autism has been demonstrated by showing that the mRNA and protein for CB2 receptor and EC enzymes were significantly dysregulated, further indicating the involvement of the EC system in autism-associated immunological disruptions. Taken together, these new findings offer a novel perspective in autism research and indicate that the EC system could represent a novel target option for autism pharmacotherapy.

Concepts: Immune system, Protein, Signal transduction, Metabolism, Lipid, Cannabinoid receptor, Bipolar disorder, Anandamide


The endocannabinoid anandamide (AEA) is an antinociceptive lipid that is inactivated through cellular uptake and subsequent catabolism by fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH). Fatty acid binding proteins (FABPs) are intracellular carriers that deliver AEA and related N-acylethanolamines (NAEs) to FAAH for hydrolysis. The mammalian brain expresses three FABP subtypes: FABP3, FABP5, and FABP7. Recent work from our group has revealed that pharmacological inhibition of FABPs reduces inflammatory pain in mice. The goal of the current work was to explore the effects of FABP inhibition upon nociception in diverse models of pain. We developed inhibitors with differential affinities for FABPs to elucidate the subtype(s) that contributes to the antinociceptive effects of FABP inhibitors. Inhibition of FABPs reduced nociception associated with inflammatory, visceral, and neuropathic pain. The antinociceptive effects of FABP inhibitors mirrored their affinities for FABP5, while binding to FABP3 and FABP7 was not a predictor of in vivo efficacy. The antinociceptive effects of FABP inhibitors were mediated by cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha (PPARα) and FABP inhibition elevated brain levels of AEA, providing the first direct evidence that FABPs regulate brain endocannabinoid tone. These results highlight FABPs as novel targets for the development of analgesic and anti-inflammatory therapeutics.

Concepts: Protein, Metabolism, Pain, Lipid, Cannabinoid receptor, Tetrahydrocannabinol, Hydrolysis, Anandamide


The brain is enriched in arachidonic acid (ARA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) of the n-6 and n-3 series, respectively. Both are essential for optimal brain development and function. Dietary enrichment with DHA and other long-chain n-3 PUFA, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), has shown beneficial effects on learning and memory, neuroinflammatory processes, and synaptic plasticity and neurogenesis. ARA, DHA and EPA are precursors to a diverse repertoire of bioactive lipid mediators, including endocannabinoids. The endocannabinoid system comprises cannabinoid receptors, their endogenous ligands, the endocannabinoids, and their biosynthetic and degradation enzymes. Anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) are the most widely studied endocannabinoids and are both derived from phospholipid-bound ARA. The endocannabinoid system also has well-established roles in neuroinflammation, synaptic plasticity and neurogenesis, suggesting an overlap in the neuroprotective effects observed with these different classes of lipids. Indeed, growing evidence suggests a complex interplay between n-3 and n-6 LCPUFA and the endocannabinoid system. For example, long-term DHA and EPA supplementation reduces AEA and 2-AG levels, with reciprocal increases in levels of the analogous endocannabinoid-like DHA and EPA-derived molecules. This review summarises current evidence of this interplay and discusses the therapeutic potential for brain protection and repair.

Concepts: Fatty acid, Fatty acids, Essential fatty acid, Eicosapentaenoic acid, Prostaglandin, Arachidonic acid, Polyunsaturated fatty acid, Anandamide


The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a widespread neuromodulatory system that plays important roles in central nervous system development, synaptic plasticity, and the response to endogenous and environmental insults. The ECS comprises cannabinoid receptors, endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids), and the enzymes responsible for the synthesis and degradation of the endocannabinoids. The most abundant cannabinoid receptors are the CB1 cannabinoid receptors; however, CB2 cannabinoid receptors, transient receptor potential channels, and peroxisome proliferator activated receptors are also engaged by some cannabinoids. Exogenous cannabinoids, such as tetrahydrocannabinol, produce their biological effects through their interactions with cannabinoid receptors. The best-studied endogenous cannabinoids are 2-arachidonoyl glycerol and arachidonoyl ethanolamide (anandamide). Despite similarities in chemical structure, 2-arachidonoyl glycerol and anandamide are synthesized and degraded by distinct enzymatic pathways, which impart fundamentally different physiologic and pathophysiologic roles to these two endocannabinoids. As a result of the pervasive social use of cannabis and the involvement of endocannabinoids in a multitude of biological processes, much has been learned about the physiologic and pathophysiologic roles of the ECS. This review provides an introduction to the ECS with an emphasis on its role in synaptic plasticity and how the ECS is perturbed in schizophrenia.

Concepts: Nervous system, Cannabinoid receptor, Tetrahydrocannabinol, Cannabis, Cannabinoid, Cannabidiol, Cannabinoids, Anandamide


Monoglyceride lipase (MGL) is required for efficient hydrolysis of the endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG) in the brain generating arachidonic acid (AA) and glycerol. This metabolic function makes MGL an interesting target for the treatment of neuroinflammation, since 2-AG exhibits anti-inflammatory properties and AA is a precursor for pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. Astrocytes are an important source of AA and 2-AG, and highly express MGL. In the present study, we dissected the distinct contribution of MGL in astrocytes on brain 2-AG and AA metabolism by generating a mouse model with genetic deletion of MGL specifically in astrocytes (MKO(GFAP)). MKO(GFAP) mice exhibit moderately increased 2-AG and reduced AA levels in brain. Minor accumulation of 2-AG in the brain of MKO(GFAP) mice does not cause cannabinoid receptor desensitization as previously observed in mice globally lacking MGL. Importantly, MKO(GFAP) mice exhibit reduced brain prostaglandin E2 and pro-inflammatory cytokines levels upon peripheral lipopolysaccharide (LPS) administration. These observations indicate that MGL-mediated degradation of 2-AG in astrocytes provides AA for prostaglandin synthesis promoting LPS-induced neuroinflammation. The beneficial effect of astrocyte-specific MGL-deficiency is not fully abrogated by the inverse cannabinoid receptor 1 agonist SR141716 (Rimonabant) suggesting that the anti-inflammatory effects are rather caused by reduced prostaglandin synthesis than by activation of cannabinoid receptors. In conclusion, our data demonstrate that MGL in astrocytes is an important regulator of 2-AG levels, AA availability, and neuroinflammation.

Concepts: Hormone, Receptor, Lipid, Cannabinoid receptor, Tetrahydrocannabinol, Prostaglandin, Cannabinoids, Anandamide