Hypothalamic endocannabinoids in obesity: an old story with new challenges

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2021 Dec;78(23):7469-7490. doi: 10.1007/s00018-021-04002-6. Epub 2021 Oct 31.


The crucial role of the hypothalamus in the pathogenesis of obesity is widely recognized, while the precise molecular and cellular mechanisms involved are the focus of intense research. A disrupted endocannabinoid system, which critically modulates feeding and metabolic functions, through central and peripheral mechanisms, is a landmark indicator of obesity, as corroborated by investigations centered on the cannabinoid receptor CB1, considered to offer promise in terms of pharmacologically targeted treatment for obesity. In recent years, novel insights have been obtained, not only into relation to the mode of action of CB receptors, but also CB ligands, non-CB receptors, and metabolizing enzymes considered to be part of the endocannabinoid system (particularly the hypothalamus). The outcome has been a substantial expansion in knowledge of this complex signaling system and in drug development. Here we review recent literature, providing further evidence on the role of hypothalamic endocannabinoids in regulating energy balance and the implication for the pathophysiology of obesity. We discuss how these lipids are dynamically regulated in obesity onset, by diet and metabolic hormones in specific hypothalamic neurons, the impact of gender, and the role of endocannabinoid metabolizing enzymes as promising targets for tackling obesity and related diseases.

Keywords: Cannabinoid receptors; Endocannabinoid; Energy balance; Hypothalamus; Obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Endocannabinoids / metabolism*
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus / metabolism
  • Hypothalamus / pathology*
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / pathology*
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid / metabolism*


  • Endocannabinoids
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid