Structure-activity analysis of anandamide analogs: relationship to a cannabinoid pharmacophore

J Med Chem. 1996 Jan 19;39(2):471-9. doi: 10.1021/jm9505167.


Anandamides are endogenous fatty acid ethanolamides that have been shown to bind to the cannabinoid receptor and possess cannabimimetic activity yet are structurally dissimilar from the classical cannabinoids found in Cannabis sativa. We have employed molecular dynamics studies of a variety of anandamides to characterize their conformational mobility and determine whether there are pharmacophoric similarities with delta 9-THC. We have found that a looped conformation of these arachidonyl compounds is energetically favorable and that a structural correlation between this low-energy conformation and the classical cannabinoids can be obtained with the superposition of (1) the oxygen of the carboxyamide with the pyran oxygen in delta 9-THC, (2) the hydroxyl group of the ethanol with the phenolic hydroxyl group of delta 9-THC, (3) the five terminal carbons and the pentyl side chain of delta9-THC, and (4) the polyolefin loop overlaying with the cannabinoid tricyclic ring. The shape similarity is extended to show that other fatty acid ethanolamides that possess varying degrees of unsaturation also vary in their conformational mobility, which affects their ability to overlay with delta 9-THC as described above. Within this series of compounds, the most potent analog, the tetraene (arachidonyl) analog (i.e., anandamide itself), was determined to have restricted conformational mobility that favored an optimal pharmacophore overlay with delta9-THC. Eight pharmacologically active anandamide analogs are shown to have similar conformational mobility and pharmacophore alignments that are conformationally accessible. Furthermore, when these compounds are aligned to delta 9-THC according to the proposed pharmacophore overlay, their potencies are predicted by a quantitative model of cannabinoid structure--activity relationships based solely on classical and nonclassical cannabinoids with a reasonable degree of accuracy. The ability to incorporate the pharmacological potency of these anandamides into the cannabinoid pharmacophore model is also shown to support the relevance of the proposed pharmacophore model.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arachidonic Acids / chemistry*
  • Arachidonic Acids / pharmacology
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Dronabinol / chemistry*
  • Dronabinol / pharmacology
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Mice
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Conformation
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Arachidonic Acids
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides
  • Dronabinol
  • anandamide