FAAH and MAGL inhibitors: therapeutic opportunities from regulating endocannabinoid levels

Curr Opin Investig Drugs. 2010 Jan;11(1):51-62.


Apart from their widespread recreational abuse, the psychoactive preparations of the plant Cannabis sativa and its major psychotropic component, Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), are also known for their medicinal properties. Following the identification of receptors for THC - the cannabinoid CB1 and CB2 receptors - in mammals, various pharmaceutical strategies have attempted to exploit the properties of the cannabinoid system while minimizing psychotropic side effects. The cloning of the cannabinoid CB1 and CB2 receptors enabled the discovery of the endogenous agonists of the receptors, the endocannabinoids, and eventually led to the identification of enzymes that catalyze endocannabinoid inactivation. Unlike exogenously administered THC and synthetic CB1 and CB2 agonists, the endocannabinoids that are produced endogenously following the onset of several pathologies may act in a site- and time-specific manner to minimize the consequences of such conditions. This observation has suggested the possibility of targeting endocannabinoid-degrading enzymes to prolong the precisely regulated pro-homeostatic action of endocannabinoids. Two major enzymes have been cloned and investigated thoroughly: fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL). Inhibitors of these enzymes have demonstrated therapeutic benefit in animal models of several disorders, including neuropathic pain, anxiety and inflammatory bowel diseases, as well as against the proliferation and migration of cancer cells. This review describes the major biochemical properties of FAAH and MAGL, and the design and pharmacological properties of inhibitors of these enzymes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amidohydrolases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Animals
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / metabolism*
  • Endocannabinoids*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Monoacylglycerol Lipases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Psychotropic Drugs / pharmacology
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / drug effects
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2 / drug effects
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Psychotropic Drugs
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2
  • Monoacylglycerol Lipases
  • Amidohydrolases
  • fatty-acid amide hydrolase