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Keywords:

  • 2-arachidonyl-glycerol (2-AG);
  • cannabinoid receptors;
  • central nervous system (CNS);
  • neuromodulators;
  • CB1 receptor antagonist (SR141716A)

Abstract: Aims: Endocannabinoids are endogenous compounds that bind to the same receptors as tetrahydrocannabinol, the active component in marijuana and hashish. They have been found to have many physiological and patho-physiological functions, including mood alteration, control of feeding and appetite, motor and co-ordination activities, analgesia, immune modulation and gut motility. In this review we aim to elucidate current knowledge as to their role in liver physiology and disease.

Methods: The major findings published to date concerning endocannabinoids and liver disease are described, and their implications with regard to understanding disease mechanisms, and the development of new treatments is considered.

Results: Recently, endocannabinoids have been implicated in the hemodynamic alterations occurring in cirrhosis. These changes appear to be mediated via specific cannabinoid receptors (CB1) on splanchnic and hepatic vascular endothelium. Plasma levels of endocannabinoids also seem to be elevated in hepatitis, and are involved in apoptosis of hepatocytes by a membrane mechanism not related to a specific receptor. Other studies suggest a beneficial role for cannabinoids in reducing the inflammation of experimental hepatitis. In an animal model of acute hepatic failure, both endocannabinoids and the antagonist to the CB1 receptor have been found to have a beneficial effect on neurological and cognitive function.

Conclusions: Endocannabinoids appear to be involved in several aspects of acute and chronic liver disease, including vascular changes, modulation of inflammatory process and neurological function, Further research may provide new insights into the pathophysiology of liver disease, as well as a basis for novel treatment modalities.