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Neuroscience. 1999;92(1):377-87.

Finding of the endocannabinoid signalling system in Hydra, a very primitive organism: possible role in the feeding response.

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Istituto di Cibernetica, C.N.R., Napoli, Italy.


Hydra (Cnidaria) is the first animal organism to have developed a neural network, which has been proposed to control, inter alia, the "feeding response", i.e. a mechanism through which the coelenterate opens and then closes its mouth in the presence of prey and/or glutathione. Here, we report that Hydra contains: (i) selective cannabinoid binding sites; (ii) the endogenous cannabinoid receptor ligand, anandamide (arachidonoylethanolamide); (iii) a fatty acid amide hydrolase-like activity catalysing anandamide hydrolysis; and (iv) the putative biosynthetic precursor of anandamide, N-arachidonoylphosphatidylethanolamine. We suggest that this "endogenous cannabinoid system" is involved in the modulation of the "feeding response". Anandamide (1 nM-1 microM) potently inhibited (up to 45%) the glutathione-induced "feeding response" by accelerating Hydra vulgaris mouth closure. The effect was maximal at 100 nM anandamide and was reversed by the selective antagonist of the CB1 subtype of mammalian cannabinoid receptors, SR 141716A (50-100 nM). Specific cannabinoid binding sites were detected in membranes from Hydra polyps by using [3H]SR 141716A (Kd= 1.87 nM, Bmax = 26.7 fmol/mg protein), and increasing anandamide concentrations were found to displace the binding of [3H]SR 141716A to these membranes (Ki = .505 nM). Hydra polyps were also found to contain amounts of anandamide (15.6 pmol/g) and N-arachidonoylphosphatidylethanolamine (32.4 pmol/g), as well as the other "endocannabinoid" 2-arachidonoylglycerol (11.2 nmol/g), comparable to those described previously for mammalian brain. Finally, a fatty acid amide hydrolase activity (Vmax = 3.4 nmol/min/mg protein), with subcellular distribution, pH dependency and sensitivity to inhibitors similar to those reported for the mammalian enzyme, but with a lower affinity for anandamide (Km = 400 microM), was also detected in Hydra polyps. These data suggest that the endocannabinoid signalling system plays a physiological role in Hydra that is to control the feeding response. Hydra is the simplest living organism described so far to use this recently discovered regulatory system.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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