Endocannabinoids are a new class of lipids, which include amides, esters and ethers of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. Anandamide (N-arachidonoylethanolamine; AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol are the main endogenous agonists of cannabinoid receptors, able to mimic several pharmacological effects of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the active principle of Cannabis sativa preparations like hashish and marijuana. It is known that the activity of AEA is limited by cellular uptake through a specific membrane transporter, followed by intracellular degradation by a fatty acid amide hydrolase. Together with AEA and congeners these proteins form the “endocannabinoid system”. The endogenous cannabinoids were identified in brain, and also in neuronal and endothelial cells, suggesting a potential role as modulators in the central nervous system and in the periphery. This review summarises the metabolic routes for the synthesis and degradation of AEA, and the latest advances in the involvement of this lipid in neurovascular biology. In addition, the therapeutic potential of the modulation of endocannabinoid metabolism for neuronal and vascular system will be also reviewed.
Keywords: cannabinoid receptors, cardiovascular system, endocannabinoids, neuroprotection, vanilloid receptors, vasorelaxation
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