Since the discovery that cannabinoids exert biological actions through binding to specific receptors, signal mechanisms triggered by these receptors have been focus of extensive study. This review summarizes the current knowledge of the signalling events produced by cannabinoids from membrane receptors to downstream regulators. Two types of cannabinoid receptors have been identified to date: CB1 and CB2 both belonging to the heptahelichoidal receptor family but with different tissue distribution and signalling mechanisms. Coupling to inhibitory guanine nucleotide-binding protein and thus inhibition of adenylyl cyclase has been observed in both receptors but other signal transduction pathways that are regulated or not by these G proteins are differently activated upon ligand-receptor binding including ion channels, sphingomyelin hydrolysis, ceramide generation, phospholipases activation and downstream targets as MAP kinase cascade, PI3K, FAK or NOS regulation. Cannabinoids may also act independently of CB1or CB2 receptors. The existence of new unidentified putative cannabinoid receptors has been claimed by many investigators. Endocannabinoids activate vanilloid TRPV1 receptors that may mediate some of the cannabinoid effects. Other actions of cannabinoids can occur through non-receptor-mediated mechanisms.
Keywords: tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabimimetic agents, g proteins, fan protein, adenylyl cyclase, voltage-gated channels, map kinase, focal adhesion kinase (fak), phospholipase d, ceramide
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