Energy balance is controlled by centres of the brain which receive important inputs from the gastrointestinal tract, liver, pancreas, adipose tissue and skeletal muscle, mediated by many different signalling molecules. Obesity occurs when control of energy intake is not matched by the degree of energy expenditure. Obesity is not only a state of disordered energy balance it is also characterized by systemic inflammation. Systemic inflammation is triggered by the leakage of bacterial lipopolysaccharide through changes in intestinal permeability. The endocannabinoid system, consisting of the cannabinoid receptors, endogenous cannabinoid ligands and their biosynthetic and degradative enzymes, plays vital roles in the control of energy balance, the control of intestinal permeability and immunity. In this review we will discuss how the endocannabinoid system, intestinal microbiota and the brain-gut axis are involved in the regulation of energy balance and the development of obesity-associated systemic inflammation. Through direct and indirect actions throughout the body, the endocannabinoid system controls the development of obesity and its inflammatory complications.
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