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Keywords:

  • endocannabinoids;
  • bone formation;
  • bone mass;
  • bone mineral density;
  • bone remodelling;
  • bone resorption;
  • CB1 cannabinoid receptors;
  • CB2 cannabinoid receptors;
  • single-nucleotide polymorphism;
  • osteoporosis

A functional endocannabinoid system is present in several mammalian organs and tissues. Recently, endocannabinoids and their receptors have been reported in the skeleton. Osteoblasts, the bone forming cells, and osteoclasts, the bone resorbing cells, produce the endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol and express CB2 cannabinoid receptors. Although CB2 has been implicated in pathological processes in the central nervous system and peripheral tissues, the skeleton appears as the main system physiologically regulated by CB2. CB2-deficient mice show a markedly accelerated age-related bone loss and the CNR2 gene (encoding CB2) in women is associated with low bone mineral density. The activation of CB2 attenuates ovariectomy-induced bone loss in mice by restraining bone resorption and enhancing bone formation. Hence synthetic CB2 ligands, which are stable and orally available, provide a basis for developing novel anti-osteoporotic therapies. Activation of CB1 in sympathetic nerve terminals in bone inhibits norepinephrine release, thus balancing the tonic sympathetic restrain of bone formation. Low levels of CB1 were also reported in osteoclasts. CB1-null mice display a skeletal phenotype that is dependent on the mouse strain, gender and specific mutation of the CB1 encoding gene, CNR1.

British Journal of Pharmacology (2008) 153, 182–188; doi:10.1038/sj.bjp.0707593; published online 10 December 2007