The molecular interplay between endocannabinoid and neurotrophin signals in the nervous system and beyond

Eur J Neurosci. 2014 Feb;39(3):334-43. doi: 10.1111/ejn.12431.


Neurotrophins are traditionally known for their roles in neuronal development, function and survival. More recent data has highlighted the importance of neurotrophin signalling in adult signalling contexts, including the regulation of synaptic transmission. In addition, neurotrophin levels are increased in inflammatory and neuropathic pain leading to sensitization to painful stimuli. Endocannabinoid (eCB) signalling was initially studied in the context of synaptic transmission and pain alleviation whilst recently gaining attention due to its involvement in the development of the nervous system. Similar to neurotrophins, eCB levels also rise during pain perception but result in diminished pain sensations. The overlap of cellular functions between neurotrophins and eCB signalling leads to the hypothesis that these signalling systems are positioned to regulate each other and narrow the multitude of actions that both systems can promote to the specific need of the cell. Therefore, in this review, we examine to what extent the involvement of these two signalling systems is co-ordinated as opposed to being coincidental, and causal to neuronal circuit modifications in pain. Available data point to numerous direct molecular interactions between the neurotrophin and eCB signalling systems in developmental and adult contexts, including receptor-level interplay, transcriptional control and synergistic regulation of downstream signalling cascades. Although experimental observations specifically in pain circuits are limited, the universality of downstream signalling systems from both neurotrophin and endocannabinoid receptors suggest an interdependent relationship between these two diverse signalling systems.

Keywords: brain development; growth factor; pain; sensory system; signalling interaction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Endocannabinoids / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Nerve Growth Factors / genetics
  • Nerve Growth Factors / metabolism*
  • Neuralgia / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid / genetics
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Endocannabinoids
  • Nerve Growth Factors
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid