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The endocannabinoid system, anandamide and the regulation of mammalian cell apoptosis
by Maccarrone M, Finazzi-Agro A.


Endocannabinoids are a new class of lipid mediators, which include amides, esters and ethers of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. Anandamide (N-arachidonoylethanolamine; AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) are the main endogenous agonists of cannabinoid receptors able to mimic several pharmacological effects of Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the active principle of Cannabis sativa preparations like hashish and marijuana. The pathways leading to the synthesis and release of AEA and 2-AG from neuronal and non-neuronal cells are still rather uncertain. Instead, it is known that the activity of AEA is limited by cellular uptake through a specific membrane transporter, followed by intracellular degradation by a fatty acid amide hydrolase. Together with AEA and congeners these proteins form the 'endocannabinoid system'. Here, the involvement of AEA in apoptosis and the underlying signal transduction pathways will be reviewed, along with the metabolic routes and the molecular targets of this endocannabinoid. Also, recent findings on the apoptotic potential of AEA for neuronal cell differentiation and brain development will be discussed.

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