It has previously been shown that the endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) inhibit the proliferation of C6 glioma cells in a manner that can be prevented by a combination of capsazepine (Caps) and cannabinoid (CB) receptor antagonists. It is not clear whether the effect of 2-AG is due to the compound itself, due to the rearrangement to form 1-arachidonoylglycerol (1-AG) or due to a metabolite. Here, it was found that the effects of 2-AG can be mimicked with 1-AG, both in terms of its potency and sensitivity to antagonism by Caps and CB receptor antagonists. In order to determine whether the effect of Caps could be ascribed to actions upon vanilloid receptors, the effect of a more selective vanilloid receptor antagonist, SB366791 was investigated. This compound inhibited capsaicin-induced Ca(2+) influx into rVR1-HEK293 cells with a pK(B) value of 6.8+/-0.3. The combination of SB366791 and CB receptor antagonists reduced the antiproliferative effect of 1-AG, confirming a vanilloid receptor component in its action. 1-AG, however, showed no direct effect on Ca(2+) influx into rVR1-HEK293 cells indicative of an indirect effect upon vanilloid receptors. Identification of the mechanism involved was hampered by a large inter-experimental variation in the sensitivity of the cells to the antiproliferative effects of 1-AG. A variation was also seen with anandamide, which was not a solubility issue, since its water soluble phosphate ester showed the same variability. In contrast, the sensitivity to methanandamide, which was not sensitive to antagonism by the combination of Caps and CB receptor antagonists, but has similar physicochemical properties to anandamide, did not vary between experiments. This variation greatly reduces the utility of these cells as a model system for the study of the antiproliferative effects of anandamide. Nevertheless, it was possible to conclude that the antiproliferative effects of anandamide were not solely mediated by either its hydrolysis to produce arachidonic acid or its CB receptor-mediated activation of phospholipase A(2) since palmitoyltrifluoromethyl ketone did not prevent the response to anandamide. The same result was seen with the fatty acid amide hydrolase inhibitor palmitoylethylamide. Increasing intracellular arachidonic acid by administration of arachidonic acid methyl ester did not affect cell proliferation, and the modest antiproliferative effect of umbelliferyl arachidonate was not prevented by a combination of Caps and CB receptor antagonists.