Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) defines a group of neurodevelopmental disorders whose symptoms include impaired communication and social interaction with restricted or repetitive motor movements, frequently associated with general cognitive deficits. Although it is among the most severe chronic childhood disorders in terms of prevalence, morbidity, and impact to the society, no effective treatment for ASD is yet available, possibly because its neurobiological basis is not clearly understood hence specific drugs have not yet been developed. The endocannabinoid (EC) system represents a major neuromodulatory system involved in the regulation of emotional responses, behavioral reactivity to context, and social interaction. Furthermore, the EC system is also affected in conditions often present in subsets of patients diagnosed with ASD, such as seizures, anxiety, intellectual disabilities, and sleep pattern disturbances. Despite the indirect evidence suggestive of an involvement of the EC system in ASD, only a few studies have specifically addressed the role of the EC system in the context of ASD. This review describes the available data on the investigation of the presence of alterations of the EC system as well as the effects of its pharmacological manipulations in animal models of ASD-like behaviors.
Keywords: anandamide; animal models; autism spectrum disorder; cannabinoid type 1 receptor; endocannabinoid system.