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. AEA is released “on demand” from membrane lipids, and its activity at the receptors is limited by cellular uptake followed by intracellular hydrolysis. Together with AEA and congeners, the proteins which bind, synthesize, transport and hydrolyze AEA form the “endocannabinoid system”. Endogenous cannabinoids are present in the central nervous system and in peripheral tissues, suggesting a physiological role as broad spectrum modulators. This review summarizes the main features of the endocannabinoid system, and the latest advances on its involvement in ageing of central and peripheral cells. In addition, the therapeutic potential of recently developed drugs able to modulate the endocannabinoid tone for the treatment of ageing and age-related human pathologies will be reviewed.
Keywords: ageing, cannabinoids, nervous system, immune system, inflammation, excitotoxicity, osteoarthritis, neurodegenerative disorders
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