Endocannabinoid Signaling in Neuroinflammatory Disorders: On Trial, Off Target
In 1964, the psychoactive ingredient of Cannabis sativa, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), was isolated. Nearly 30 years later the endogenous counterparts of THC, collectively termed endocannabinoids (eCBs), were discovered: N-arachidonoylethanolamine (anandamide; AEA) in 1992 and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) in 1995. Since then, considerable research has shed light on the impact of eCBs on human health and disease, identifying an ensemble of proteins that bind, synthesize, and degrade them and that together form the eCB system (ECS). eCBs control basic biological processes including cell choice between survival and death and progenitor/stem cell proliferation and differentiation. Unsurprisingly, in the past two decades eCBs have been recognized as key mediators of several aspects of human pathophysiology and thus have emerged to be among the most widespread and versatile signaling molecules ever discovered. Here, I shall review the state of the art of critical eCB functions within the central nervous system and in peripheral organs, with the aim of putting in a better perspective the therapeutic potential of ECS-oriented drugs to treat human disease.