Mechanisms of control of neuron survival by the endocannabinoid system

Curr Pharm Des. 2008;14(23):2279-88. doi: 10.2174/138161208785740117.


Endocannabinoids act as retrograde messengers that, by inhibiting neurotransmitter release via presynaptic CB(1) cannabinoid receptors, regulate the functionality of many synapses. In addition, the endocannabinoid system participates in the control of neuron survival. Thus, CB(1) receptor activation has been shown to protect neurons from acute brain injury as well as in neuroinflammatory conditions and neurodegenerative diseases. Nonetheless, some studies have reported that cannabinoids can also exert neurotoxic actions. Cannabinoid neuroprotective activity relies on the inhibition of glutamatergic neurotransmission and on other various mechanisms, and is supported by the observation that the brain overproduces endocannabinoids upon damage. Coupling of neuronal CB(1) receptors to cell survival routes such as the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/Akt and extracellular signal-regulated kinase pathways may contribute to cannabinoid neuroprotective action. These pro-survival signals occur, at least in part, by the cross-talk between CB(1) receptors and growth factor tyrosine kinase receptors. Besides promoting neuroprotection, a role for the endocannabinoid system in the control of neurogenesis from neural progenitors has been put forward. In addition, activation of CB(2) cannabinoid receptors on glial cells may also participate in neuroprotection by limiting the extent of neuroinflammation. Altogether, these findings support that endocannabinoids constitute a new family of lipid mediators that act as instructive signals in the control of neuron survival.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / metabolism*
  • Cell Survival / physiology
  • Endocannabinoids*
  • Humans
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / physiopathology
  • Neuroglia / metabolism
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases