Phylogenomic and chemotaxonomic analysis of the endocannabinoid system.Brain Res Brain Res Rev 2004; 45(1):18-29BR
The endocannabinoid system consists of two cannabinoid (CB) receptors, seven ligands, and ligand-catabolizing enzymes such as fatty acid amid hydrolase (FAAH) and monoglyceride lipase (MGL). The system's phylogenetic distribution is poorly known. The ligands cannot be molecularly investigated because they are not polypeptides and their specific synthetic enzymes have not been identified, so no sequences are available. Ligand phylogenetics can be inferred, nonetheless, by their presence in a range of extant organisms. Thus a meta-analysis of ligand extraction studies was performed (chemotaxonomy), and compared to a molecular search for homologs of CB receptors, vanilloid receptors (VR1), FAAH, and MGL in the genomes of sequenced organisms (phylogenomics). Putative homologs underwent functional mapping to ascertain the presence of critical amino acid motifs known to impart protein functionality. From an evolutionary perspective it appears that (1) endocannabinoid ligands evolved before CB receptors; (2) the ligands evolved independently multiple times; (3) CB receptors evolved prior to the metazoan-bilaterian divergence (ie, between extant Hydra and leech), but were secondarily lost in the Ecdysozoa; (4) VR1 may predate CB receptors but its affinity for endocannabinoids is a recent acquisition, appearing after the lower vertebrate-mammal divergence; (5) MGL may be as old as the ligands, whereas FAAH evolved recently, after the appearance of vertebrates. FAAH's emergence correlates with VR1's newly-found affinity for anandamide; this overlap in evolutionary time is recapitulated by complementary distribution patterns of FAAH, VR1, and anandamide in the brain. Linking FAAH, VR1, and anandamide implies a coupling among the remaining "older" parts of the endocannabinoid system, MGL, CB receptors, and 2-AG.