Brain regional distribution of endocannabinoids: implications for their biosynthesis and biological function

Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 1999 Mar 16;256(2):377-80. doi: 10.1006/bbrc.1999.0254.


The amounts, in nine different rat brain regions, of the two endocannabinoids, anandamide (arachidonoylethanolamide, AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), and of the putative AEA precursor N-arachidonoyl-phosphatidylethanolamine (NArPE), were determined by isotope-dilution gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and compared to the number of cannabinoid binding sites in each region. The distribution of NArPE, reported here for the first time, exhibited a good correlation with that of AEA, the former metabolite being 3-13 times more abundant than the endocannabinoid in all regions. The highest amounts of both metabolites (up to 358.5 and 87 pmol/g wet weight tissue, respectively) were found in the brainstem and striatum, and the lowest in the diencephalon, cortex, and cerebellum. These data support the hypothesis that, in the brain, AEA is a metabolic product of NArPE and may reach levels compatible with its proposed neuromodulatory function. The brain distribution of 2-AG, also described in this study for the first time, was found to correlate with that of AEA with levels ranging from 2.0 to 14.0 nmol/g (in the diencephalon and brainstem, respectively). The distribution of the endocannabinoids did not match exactly with that of cannabinoid binding sites, suggesting either that these compounds are not necessarily produced near their molecular targets, or that they play functional roles additional to the activation of cannabinoid receptors. Regional differences in the ligand/receptor ratios may also lead to predict corresponding differences in the efficiency of receptor activation, as shown by previous studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Animals
  • Arachidonic Acids / analysis
  • Arachidonic Acids / metabolism*
  • Binding Sites
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain Chemistry
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Cannabinoids / analysis
  • Cannabinoids / metabolism*
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Glycerides / analysis
  • Glycerides / metabolism*
  • Ligands
  • Male
  • Phosphatidylethanolamines / analysis
  • Phosphatidylethanolamines / metabolism*
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid
  • Receptors, Drug / metabolism
  • Time Factors


  • Arachidonic Acids
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Cannabinoids
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Glycerides
  • Ligands
  • N-arachidonylphosphatidylethanolamine
  • Phosphatidylethanolamines
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid
  • Receptors, Drug
  • glyceryl 2-arachidonate
  • anandamide