Endocannabinoids and their role in fatty liver disease

A Mallat, S Lotersztajn
Digestive Diseases 2010, 28 (1): 261-6
The endocannabinoid system comprises receptors, CB1 and CB2, their endogenous lipidic ligands and machinery dedicated to endocannabinoid synthesis and degradation. An overactive endocannabinoid system appears to contribute to the pathogenesis of several diseases, including liver diseases. With the increasing incidence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in parallel with the obesity epidemic, the development of effective therapies is gaining considerable interest. Several recent experimental lines of evidence identify CB receptors as potential novel therapeutic targets in the management of NAFLD. Endogenous activation of peripheral CB1 receptors is a key mediator of insulin resistance and enhances liver lipogenesis in experimental models of NAFLD. Moreover, we have shown that adipose tissue CB2 receptors are markedly upregulated and promote fat inflammation, thereby contributing to insulin resistance and liver steatosis. Data from our group also indicate that tonic activation of CB1 receptors is responsible for progression of liver fibrosis, whereas CB2 receptors display anti-fibrogenic properties. The clinical relevance of these findings is supported by studies in patients with chronic hepatitis C indicating that daily cannabis use is an independent predictor of both fibrosis and steatosis severity. Moreover, preliminary data derived from clinical trials strongly suggest that selective CB1 antagonism improves insulin resistance and reduces liver fat. Tempering these promises, the first generation of CB1 antagonists raised concern due to an alarming rate of mood disorders and the development program of these molecules was suspended. Current research efforts are therefore focused on developing formulations of CB1 antagonists that do not enter the central nervous system, and preliminary experimental data obtained with such molecules are encouraging.

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