Anandamide (N -arachidonoyl-ethanolamine, AEA) was the first endogenous ligand of cannabinoid receptors to be discovered. Yet, since early studies, AEA appeared to exhibit also some effects that were not mediated by cannabinoid CB(1) or CB(2) receptors. Indeed, AEA exerts some behavioral actions also in mice with genetically disrupted CB(1) receptors, whereas in vitro it is usually a partial agonist at these receptors and a weak activator of CB(2) receptors. Nevertheless, several pharmacological effects of AEA are mediated by CB(1) receptors, which, by being coupled to G-proteins, can be seen as AEA "metabotropic" receptors. Furthermore, at least two different, and as yet uncharacterized, G-protein-coupled AEA receptors have been suggested to exist in the brain and vascular endothelium, respectively. AEA is also capable of directly inhibiting ion currents mediated by L-type Ca(2+) channels and TASK-1 K(+) channels. However, to date the only reasonably well characterized, non-cannabinoid site of action for AEA is the vanilloid receptor type 1 (VR1), a non-selective cation channel gated also by capsaicin, protons and heat. VR1 might be considered as an AEA "ionotropic" receptor and, under certain conditions, mediates effects ranging from vasodilation, broncho-constriction, smooth muscle tone modulation and nociception to stimulation of hippocampal pair-pulse depression, inhibition of tumor cell growth and induction of apoptosis.
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