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J Neurochem. 2005 Jun;93(5):1141-56.

Occurrence and possible biological role of the endocannabinoid system in the sea squirt Ciona intestinalis.

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1
Endocannabinoid Research Group, Institute of Biomolecular Chemistry, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Pozzuoli (Napoli), Italy.

Abstract

A cannabinoid receptor orthologue (CiCBR) has been described in the sea squirt Ciona intestinalis. Here we report that CiCBR mRNA expression is highest in cerebral ganglion, branchial pharynx, heart and testis of C. intestinalis, and that this organism also contains cannabinoid receptor ligands and some of the enzymes for ligand biosynthesis and inactivation. Using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry, the endocannabinoid anandamide was found in all tissues analysed (0.063-5.423 pmol/mg of lipid extract), with the highest concentrations being found in brain and heart. The endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) was fivefold more abundant than anandamide, and was most abundant in stomach and intestine and least abundant in heart and ovaries (2.677-50.607 pmol/mg of lipid extract). Using phylogenomic analysis, we identified orthologues of several endocannabinoid synthesizing and degrading enzymes. In particular, we identified and partly sequenced a fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) orthologue, showing 44% identity with human FAAH and containing nearly all the amino acids necessary for a functional FAAH enzyme. Ciona intestinalis also contained specific binding sites for cannabinoid receptor ligands, and an amidase enzyme with pH-dependency and subcellular/tissue distribution similar to mammalian FAAHs. Finally, a typical C. intestinalis behavioural response, siphon reopening after closure induced by mechanical stimulation, was inhibited by the cannabinoid receptor agonist HU-210, and this effect was significantly attenuated by mammalian cannabinoid receptor antagonists.

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