The need for new pain therapies that provide greater relief without unwanted side-effects drives the search for new drug targets. The identification of endogenous lipid ligands for the two known cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) has led to numerous studies investigating the role of these endocannabinoids in pain processes. The two most widely studied endocannabinoids are anandamide (AEA; arachidonoyl ethanolamide) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), but there are also a number of structurally related endogenous lipid signaling molecules that are agonists at cannabinoid and noncannabinoid receptors. These lipid signaling molecules are not stored in synaptic vesicles, but are synthesized and released on-demand and act locally, as they are rapidly inactivated. This suggests that there may be therapeutic potential in modulating levels of these ligands to only have effects in active neural pathways, thereby reducing the potential for side-effects that result from widespread systemic cannabinoid receptor activation. One approach to modulate the levels and duration of action of these lipid signaling molecules is to target the enzymes responsible for their hydrolysis. The two main enzymes responsible for hydrolysis of these lipid signaling molecules are fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and monoacylglyceride lipase (MGL). This article will discuss the role of the endocannabinoid system in the modulation of pain and will review the current understanding of the properties of the hydrolytic enzymes and the recent advances in developing inhibitors for these targets, with particular relevance to the treatment of pain.
Keywords: Fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), Anandamide (AEA), cannabinoid, endocannabinoid, 2-arachidonoylglycero(2-AG), cannabinoid receptors, lipid signaling molecules, systemic cannabinoid receptor activation, monoacylglyceride lipase (MGL), Analysis of AEA tissue levels, G-protein coupled receptor GPR55, equally efficacious, Neuropathic pain, rheumatoid arthritis space
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