Endocannabinoids and their actions.Vitam Horm 2002; 65:225-55VH
Endocannabinoids are a new class of lipid mediators, which includes amides and esters of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. Anandamide (I) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (II) are the main endogenous agonists of cannabinoid receptors, able to mimic several pharmacological effects of delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (III), the active principle of Cannabis sativa preparations such as hashish and marijuana. The pathways leading to the synthesis and release of anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol from neuronal and nonneuronal cells are rather uncertain. Instead, evidence has accumulated showing that the activity of these compounds at their specific receptors is limited by cellular uptake through a specific membrane transporter, followed by intracellular degradation by a fatty acid amide hydrolase. Here, the endocannabinoids and the endocannabinoid-like compounds most relevant for human physiology will be discussed, along with the synthetic and degradative pathways of anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol and their molecular targets on the cell surface. The main actions of the endocannabinoids in human cells and tissues will also be reviewed, focusing on the activities most recently discovered in the central nervous system and in the periphery.