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Expression and Function of the Endocannabinoid System in Glial Cells

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In the last few years the role and significance of the glia in CNS function and pathology have been drastically reassessed. Glial cells physiology appears very different in healthy versus pathological brain and the recent identification of cannabinoid receptors and their endogenous ligands in glia has triggered a number of studies exploring the role of (endo)cannabinoid system in glia functionality and disease. (Endo)cannabinoids exert their effects in these cells directly affecting some important peculiar functions of the glia and actively promoting biochemical signals ending in a prosurvival fate for these cells. By contrast, (endo)cannabinoids induce a selective death in glia-derived tumor cells. Of special physiological and therapeutic relevance is the reported ability of glial cells during neuropathological conditions to release an increased amount of endocannabinoids and to overexpress cannabinoid receptors. This evidence has suggested that the endocannabinoids production by glial cells may constitute an endogenous defense mechanism preventing the propagation of neuroinflammation and cell damage. The present paper will review the evidence supporting the regulatory role of (endo)cannabinoids in glia function, holding in consideration their therapeutic potential as neuroprotective and/or anticancer agents.
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Keywords: Glia; astrocytes; cell survival; glioma; microglia; neuroprotection; oligodendrocytes

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Structural and Functional Biology, Center of Neuroscience, University of Insubria, Via A. da Giussano 10, 21052 Busto Arsizio (VA), Italy.

Publication date: August 1, 2008

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