Biosynthesis and degradation of anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol and their possible physiological significance

Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2002 Feb-Mar;66(2-3):173-92. doi: 10.1054/plef.2001.0356.


N -arachidonoylethanolamine (anandamide) was the first endogenous cannabinoid receptor ligand to be discovered. Dual synthetic pathways for anandamide have been proposed. One is the formation from free arachidonic acid and ethanolamine, and the other is the formation from N -arachidonoyl phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) through the action of a phosphodiesterase. These pathways, however, do not appear to be able to generate a large amount of anandamide, at least under physiological conditions. The generation of anandamide from free arachidonic acid and ethanolamine is catalyzed by a degrading enzyme anandamide amidohydrolase/fatty acid amide hydrolase operating in reverse and requires large amounts of substrates. As for the second pathway, arachidonic acids esterified at the 1-position of glycerophospholipids, which are mostly esterified at the 2-position, are utilized for the formation of N -arachidonoyl PE, a stored precursor form of anandamide. In fact, the actual levels of anandamide in various tissues are generally low except in a few cases. 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) was the second endogenous cannabinoid receptor ligand to be discovered. 2-AG is a degradation product of arachidonic acid-containing glycerophospholipids such as inositol phospholipids. Several investigators have demonstrated that 2-AG is produced in a variety of tissues and cells upon stimulation. 2-AG acts as a full agonist at the cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2). Evidence is gradually accumulating and indicates that 2-AG is the most efficacious endogenous natural ligand for the cannabinoid receptors. In this review, we summarize the tissue levels, biosynthesis, degradation and possible physiological significance of two endogenous cannabimimetic molecules, anandamide and 2-AG.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arachidonic Acids / analysis
  • Arachidonic Acids / biosynthesis*
  • Arachidonic Acids / chemistry
  • Arachidonic Acids / metabolism*
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Glycerides / analysis
  • Glycerides / biosynthesis*
  • Glycerides / chemistry
  • Glycerides / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Molecular Structure
  • Organ Specificity
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid
  • Receptors, Drug / agonists
  • Receptors, Drug / metabolism


  • Arachidonic Acids
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Glycerides
  • Ligands
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid
  • Receptors, Drug
  • glyceryl 2-arachidonate
  • anandamide