There are at least two types of cannabinoid receptors, CB(1) and CB(2), both coupled to G proteins. CB(1) receptors exist primarily on central and peripheral neurons, one of their functions being to modulate neurotransmitter release. CB(2) receptors are present mainly on immune cells. Their roles are proving more difficult to establish but seem to include the modulation of cytokine release. Endogenous agonists for cannabinoid receptors (endocannabinoids) have also been discovered, the most important being arachidonoyl ethanolamide (anandamide), 2-arachidonoyl glycerol and 2-arachidonyl glyceryl ether. Other endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptor types may also exist. Although anandamide can act through CB(1) and CB(2) receptors, it is also a vanilloid receptor agonist and some of its metabolites may possess yet other important modes of action. The discovery of the system of cannabinoid receptors and endocannabinoids that constitutes the "endocannabinoid system" has prompted the development of CB(1)- and CB(2)-selective agonists and antagonists/inverse agonists. CB(1)/CB(2) agonists are already used clinically, as anti-emetics or to stimulate appetite. Potential therapeutic uses of cannabinoid receptor agonists include the management of multiple sclerosis/spinal cord injury, pain, inflammatory disorders, glaucoma, bronchial asthma, vasodilation that accompanies advanced cirrhosis, and cancer. Following their release onto cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids are removed from the extracellular space by membrane transport and then degraded by intracellular enzymic hydrolysis. Inhibitors of both these processes have been developed. Such inhibitors have therapeutic potential as animal data suggest that released endocannabinoids mediate reductions both in inflammatory pain and in the spasticity and tremor of multiple sclerosis. So too have CB(1) receptor antagonists, for example for the suppression of appetite and the management of cognitive dysfunction or schizophrenia.
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