Role of the endocannabinoid system in vertebrates: Emphasis on the zebrafish model

Dev Growth Differ. 2017 May;59(4):194-210. doi: 10.1111/dgd.12351. Epub 2017 May 17.


The endocannabinoid system (eCBs), named after the plant Cannabis sativa, comprises cannabinoid receptors, endogenous ligands known as "endocannabinoids", and enzymes involved in the biosynthesis and degradation of these ligands, as well as putative transporters for these ligands. ECBs proteins and small molecules have been detected in early embryonic stages of many vertebrate models. As a result, cannabinoid receptors and endogenous as well as exogenous cannabinoids influence development and behavior in many vertebrate species. Understanding the precise mechanisms of action for the eCBs will provide an invaluable guide towards elucidation of vertebrate development and will also help delineate how developmental exposure to marijuana might impact health and cognitive/executive functioning in adulthood. Here we review the developmental roles of the eCBs in vertebrates, focusing our attention on the zebrafish model. Since little is known regarding the eCBs in zebrafish, we provide new data on the expression profiles of eCBs genes during development and in adult tissue types of this model organism. We also highlight exciting areas for future investigations, including the synaptic regulation of eCBs, its role in reward and addiction, and in nervous system development and plasticity.

Keywords: 2-AG; Anandamide; Tetrahydrocannabinol; cannabinoid receptors; development; endocannabinoid system; zebrafish.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dronabinol / metabolism
  • Endocannabinoids / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid / metabolism*
  • Zebrafish / embryology*
  • Zebrafish / metabolism


  • Endocannabinoids
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid
  • Dronabinol