JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Dysregulation of the endocannabinoid system in obesity

S Engeli
Journal of Neuroendocrinology 2008, 20: 110-5
18426509
An activation of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in obesity with increased concentrations of endocannabinoids in several tissues and in the circulation is described in this review. This increased availability of endocannabinoids might stimulate cannabinoid receptors in a pathophysiological manner. The successful use of the cannabinoid receptor CB(1) inverse agonists rimonabant and taranabant for weight loss and the treatment of obesity-associated metabolic disorders might well be through blocking this overstimulation of cannabinoid receptors. At present, no single mechanism has been identified that explains the increased bioavailability of endocannabinoids in obesity. Both increased synthesis and decreased degradation appear to operate in a species- and tissue-dependent manner, but many pieces of the puzzle still need to be collected. For example, most data show decreased fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) expression and/or activity as a result of obesity or high-fat intake, but the endocannabinoid predominantly increased in tissues is 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), which is not degraded by FAAH in vivo. Furthermore, the influence of dietary fatty acids on the synthesis of endocannabinoids needs to be studied in much more detail. Although weight loss does not seem to influence activation of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in human obesity, suggesting an underlying mechanisms independent of body weight, no such mechanism at the genetic level has yet been identified either. Thus, activation of the ECS is a hallmark of abdominal obesity, and explains the success of pharmacological CB(1) blockade, but serious attempts have to be made to clarify the underlying mechanisms of this activation.

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