Biosynthetic pathways of the endocannabinoid anandamide

Chem Biodivers. 2007 Aug;4(8):1842-57. doi: 10.1002/cbdv.200790155.


Anandamide (=N-arachidonoylethanolamine) is the first discovered endocannabinoid, and belongs to the class of bioactive, long-chain N-acylethanolamines (NAEs). In animal tissues, anandamide is principally formed together with other NAEs from glycerophospholipid by two successive enzymatic reactions: 1) N-acylation of phosphatidylethanolamine to generate N-acylphosphatidylethanolamine (NAPE) by Ca2+-dependent N-acyltransferase; 2) release of NAE from NAPE by a phosphodiesterase of the phospholipase D type (NAPE-PLD). Although these anandamide-synthesizing enzymes were poorly understood until recently, our cDNA cloning of NAPE-PLD in 2004 enabled molecular-biological approaches to the enzymes. NAPE-PLD is a member of the metallo-beta-lactamase family, which specifically hydrolyzes NAPE among glycerophospholipids, and appears to be constitutively active. Mutagenesis studies suggested that the enzyme functions through a mechanism similar to those of other members of the family. NAPE-PLD is widely expressed in animal tissues, including various regions in rat brain. Its expression level in the brain is very low at birth, and remarkably increases with development. Analysis of NAPE-PLD-deficient mice and other recent studies revealed the presence of NAPE-PLD-independent pathways for the anandamide formation. Furthermore, calcium-independent N-acyltransferase was discovered and characterized. In this article, we will review recent progress in the studies on these enzymes responsible for the biosynthesis of anandamide and other NAEs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arachidonic Acids / biosynthesis*
  • Arachidonic Acids / chemistry*
  • Arachidonic Acids / metabolism
  • Arylamine N-Acetyltransferase / physiology*
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / chemistry*
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / metabolism
  • Endocannabinoids*
  • Humans
  • Isoenzymes / physiology*
  • Phospholipase D / physiology*
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides / chemistry*
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides / metabolism


  • Arachidonic Acids
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Isoenzymes
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides
  • Arylamine N-Acetyltransferase
  • N-acetyltransferase 1
  • Phospholipase D
  • anandamide