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Int J Obes (Lond). 2006 Apr;30 Suppl 1:S7-S12.

Endogenous cannabinoids in the brain and peripheral tissues: regulation of their levels and control of food intake.

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Institute of Biomolecular Chemistry, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Pozzuoli (NA), Italy.


Endocannabinoids were first defined in 1995 as 'endogenous substances capable of binding to and functionally activating the cannabinoid receptors'. To date, two well-established endocannabinoids, N-arachidonoylethanolamine (anandamide) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), as well as a few other putative ligands, all derived from long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, have been identified in animal tissues. The biosynthetic and metabolic pathways for anandamide and 2-AG have been elucidated, and most of the enzymes therein involved have been cloned. We now know that CB1 receptors, and endocannabinoids in tissue concentrations sufficient to activate them, are more widely distributed than originally thought, and are found in brain and peripheral organs involved in the control of energy intake and processing, including the hypothalamus, nucleus accumbens, brainstem, vagus nerve, gastrointestinal tract, adipose tissue and liver. Endocannabinoid biosynthetic and inactivating pathways are under the regulation of neuropeptides and hormones involved in energy homeostasis, and endocannabinoid levels are directly affected by the diet. Endocannabinoids, in turn, regulate the expression and action of mediators involved in nutrient intake and processing. These cross-talks are at the basis of the proposed role of endocannabinoid signalling in the control of food intake, from invertebrates to lower vertebrates and mammals, and their perturbation appears to contribute to the development of eating disorders.

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