Dynamic changes to the endocannabinoid system in models of chronic pain

Devi Rani Sagar, James J. Burston, Stephen G. Woodhams, Victoria Chapman

Abstract

The analgesic effects of cannabinoid ligands, mediated by CB1 receptors are well established. However, the side-effect profile of CB1 receptor ligands has necessitated the search for alternative cannabinoid-based approaches to analgesia. Herein, we review the current literature describing the impact of chronic pain states on the key components of the endocannabinoid receptor system, in terms of regionally restricted changes in receptor expression and levels of key metabolic enzymes that influence the local levels of the endocannabinoids. The evidence that spinal CB2 receptors have a novel role in the modulation of nociceptive processing in models of neuropathic pain, as well as in models of cancer pain and arthritis is discussed. Recent advances in our understanding of the spinal location of the key enzymes that regulate the levels of the endocannabinoid 2-AG are discussed alongside the outcomes of recent studies of the effects of inhibiting the catabolism of 2-AG in models of pain. The complexities of the enzymes capable of metabolizing both anandamide (AEA) and 2-AG have become increasingly apparent. More recently, it has come to light that some of the metabolites of AEA and 2-AG generated by cyclooxygenase-2, lipoxygenases and cytochrome P450 are biologically active and can either exacerbate or inhibit nociceptive signalling.

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