Cellular signaling is regulated by several biochemical reactions, whose dynamics depends on changes in the fluxes of specific ligands through the containment barriers that are the biological membranes. The regulation of this complex dynamic equilibrium is mainly due to the activity of border proteins, that must be able to interact simultaneously with the lipid bilayer and the extracellular milieu. Endocannabinoid receptors, that include type-1 and type-2 cannabinoid receptors, the transient vanilloid potential receptors and the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors, represent one of the most intriguing examples of “border” proteins. They have also been identified as important drug discovery targets with potential therapeutic applications, including antiemesis, appetite enhancement, analgesia, glaucoma treatment, and immune suppression. However, as yet the molecular details of endocannabinoid receptor regulation remain elusive. In this review we summarize the most relevant aspects of the structural/functional characterization of these receptors, with a focus on the active role played by biological membranes (in particular lipid rafts) in the modulation of their accessibility and mode of ligand binding. Based on available evidence, we propose that endocannabinoid receptors can be regulated by the rate of interlayer exchange and lateral diffusion of endocannabinoid/cholesterol complexes within lipid bilayers, thus suggesting innovative approaches for the therapeutic exploitation of the membrane component of endocannabinoid signaling.
Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Teramo, Piazza A. Moro 45, 64100 Teramo, Italy.
Publication date: May 1, 2010
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