The endocannabinoid system and liver diseases

J Neuroendocrinol. 2008 May;20 Suppl 1:47-52. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2826.2008.01679.x.


Endogenous cannabinoids (EC) are ubiquitous lipid signalling molecules provided by a number of central and peripheral effects, which are mainly mediated by the specific cannabinoid receptors CB(1) and CB(2). Although the expression of these receptors is very low or even absent in the healthy liver, a considerable series of experimental studies and some clinical observations have recognised the EC system as an important player in the pathophysiology of liver diseases. The EC system is highly up-regulated during chronic liver diseases and, to date, it has been implicated in the pathogenesis of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, progression of fibrosis to cirrhosis and the development of the cardiovascular abnormalities of cirrhosis, such as the hyperdynamic circulatory syndrome and cirrhotic cardiomiopathy. Furthermore, the EC system influences the mechanisms responsible for cell damage and the inflammatory response during acute liver injury, such as that resulting from ischaemia-reperfusion. Thus, molecules targeting the CB(1) and CB(2) receptors may represent potential therapeutic agents for the treatment of liver diseases. At present, the CB(1) antagonists represent the most attractive pharmaceutical tool to resolve fat accumulation in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and to treat patients with cirrhosis, as they may slow the progression of fibrosis and attenuate the cardiovascular alterations associated with the advanced stage of the disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / physiology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Endocannabinoids*
  • Fatty Liver / etiology
  • Humans
  • Liver Cirrhosis / complications
  • Liver Cirrhosis / etiology
  • Liver Diseases / complications
  • Liver Diseases / etiology*
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiology
  • Reperfusion Injury / etiology


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Endocannabinoids