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From Surface to Nuclear Receptors: The Endocannabinoid Family Extends its Assets

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Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs) have long been known as mediators of several physiological functions, among which the best characterized are lipid metabolism, energy balance and anti-inflammation. Their rather large and promiscuous ligand binding site has been recently discovered to accommodate, among a plethora of lipid molecules and metabolic intermediates, endocannabinoids and their cognate compounds, specifically belonging to the Nacylethanolamine group. In fact, oleoylethanolamide, palmitoylethanolamide and probably anandamide bind with relatively high affinity to PPARs and have now been included among their endogenous ligands. Through activation of PPARs these molecules exert a variety of physiological processes. Particularly, both long-term effects via genomic mechanisms and rapid non-genomic actions have been described, which in several instances are opposite to those evoked by activation of “classical” surface cannabinoid receptors.

In this review, we describe how these effects are relevant under diverse physiological and pathophysiological circumstances, such as lipid metabolism and feeding behaviour, neuroprotection and epilepsy, circadian rhythms, addiction and cognition. A picture is emerging where nuclear receptors are involved in anorexiant, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, anti-epileptic, wakefulness- and cognitive-enhancing, and anti-addicting properties of endocannabinoid-like molecules. Further studies are necessary to fully understand cellular mechanisms underlying the interactions between endocannabinoids and PPARs, but also between their surface and nuclear receptors, and to exploit their potential therapeutic applications.
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Keywords: Endocannabinoids; addiction; circadian rhythms; epilepsy; feeding; inflammation; neuroprotection; peroxisome-proliferator-activated receptors

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: B.B. Brodie Department of Neuroscience, University of Cagliari, Cittadella Universitaria, 09042 Monserrato (CA), Italy.

Publication date: 01 May 2010

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  • Current Medicinal Chemistry covers all the latest and outstanding developments in medicinal chemistry and rational drug design. Each issue contains a series of timely in-depth reviews written by leaders in the field covering a range of the current topics in medicinal chemistry. Current Medicinal Chemistry is an essential journal for every medicinal chemist who wishes to be kept informed and up-to-date with the latest and most important developments.
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