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J Soc Biol. 2009;203(1):99-106. doi: 10.1051/jbio:2009002. Epub 2009 Apr 10.

[The cannabinoid system and pain: towards new drugs?].

[Article in French]

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Institut de Recherche Schering-Plough, Parc Scientifique Biom├ędical San Raffaele, via Olgettina 58, 20132 Milan, Italie.


The various components of the endocannabinoid system were discovered in the last twenty years. The cannabinoid system has attracted pharmacologists interest for its potential as therapeutic targets for several diseases ranging from obesity to Parkinson's disease and from multiple sclerosis to pain. Research initially focused on cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1), but, due to psychotropic side effects related to its activation, the attempts to develop an agonist drug for this receptor has been so far unsuccessful. Recently the possibility to target CB2 has emerged as an alternative for the treatment of pain. The main advantage of targeting CB2 resides in the possibility to elicit the analgesic effect without the psychotropic side effects. Evidence of the analgesic effect of CB2 selective agonists has been obtained in various models of both inflammatory and neuropathic chronic pain. To explain the mechanism at the basis of this analgesic effect different hypotheses have been proposed: effect on inflammatory cells, reduction of basal NGF tone, induction of beta-endorphin release from keratinocytes, direct action on nociceptors. Evidence in support of this last hypothesis comes from down regulation of capsaicin-induced CGRP release in spinal cord slices and Dorsal Root Ganglia (DRG) neurons in culture after treatment with CB2 selective agonists. CB2 agonists are probably acting through several mechanisms and thus CB2 represents an interesting and promising target in the chronic pain field. Further clarification of the mechanisms at the basis of CB2 analgesic effect would surely be an intriguing and stimulating area of research for the years to come.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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