The effects of N-arachidonoylethanolamine (anandamide) and related compounds on the binding of [3H]CP55940 to rat brain synaptosomes were examined. Anandamide was shown to inhibit competitively the specific binding of [3H]CP55940 to synaptosomal membranes. The Ki value was 89 nM. In contrast, N-acylethanolamines containing saturated or monoenoic fatty acids did not exhibit high binding affinity. Several structural analogues of anandamide showed some binding activity. Among them, 2-arachidonoylglycerol is noteworthy because of its occurrence in mammalian tissues. A biosynthetic study indicated that anandamide can be synthesized via two separate synthetic pathways. The first is synthesis from free arachidonic acid and ethanolamine, and the second is the formation of N-arachidonoyl phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) from diarachidonoyl phospholipids and PE and the subsequent enzymatic release of N-arachidonoylethanolamine. The latter pathway appears to explain very well the fatty acid composition of N-acylethanolamines present in mammalian tissues.