Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase: A Gate-Keeper of the Endocannabinoid System

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Abstract

The family of endocannabinoids contains several polyunsaturated fatty acid amides such as anandamide (AEA), but also esters such as 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). These compounds are the main endogenous agonists of cannabinoid receptors, able to mimic several pharmacological effects of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), the active principle of Cannabis sativa preparations like hashish and marijuana. The activity of AEA at its receptors is limited by cellular uptake, through a putative membrane transporter, followed by intracellular degradation by fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH). Growing evidence demonstrates that FAAH is the critical regulator of the endogenous levels of AEA, suggesting that it may serve as an attractive therapeutic target for the treatment of human disorders. In particular, FAAH inhibitors may be next generation therapeutics of potential value for the treatment of pathologies of the central nervous system, and of peripheral tissues. Investigations into the structure and function of FAAH, its biological and therapeutic implications, as well as a description of different families of FAAH inhibitors, are the topic of this chapter.