The endocannabinoid system has been involved in the control of several neurophysiological and behavioural responses. Indeed, recent studies have suggested that the cannabinoid system could represent an important substrate for the control of emotional behaviour, and further research would probably help to identify new promising therapeutic targets. This paper reviews the results obtained in different animal models used to investigate emotional states after the manipulation of the endocannabinoid system. Cannabinoid compounds can induce anxiogenic- and anxiolytic-like responses in rodents depending on the experimental conditions. Studies using knockout mice lacking the CB1 cannabinoid receptors have shown the participation of this receptor in several behavioural responses including anxiety- and depressive-like states. Furthermore, the endocannabinoid system regulates the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal axis, which is involved in providing an appropriate response to stressful situations. Recent studies have also demonstrated that the endocannabinoids can function as retrograde messengers, modulating the release of different neurotransmitter, including opioids, GABA and cholecystokinin that have been classically involved in the control of anxiety-like responses. All this recent information has further clarified the role played by the endogenous cannabinoid system in the control of emotional behaviour and provides data to support a new possible therapeutic use of cannabinoid compounds.
Keywords: cannabinoids, cb cannabinoid receptors, knockout mice, emotional-like behaviour, anxiety-like responses, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, elevated plus maze, lit-dark box, gaba