Endocannabinoids as biomarkers of human reproduction

Cinzia Rapino, Natalia Battista, Monica Bari, Mauro Maccarrone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Infertility is a condition of the reproductive system that affects ~10-15% of couples attempting to conceive a baby. More than half of all cases of infertility are a result of female conditions, while the remaining cases can be attributed to male factors, or to a combination of both. The search for suitable biomarkers of pregnancy outcome is a challenging issue in human reproduction, aimed at identifying molecules with predictive significance of the reproductive potential of male and female gametes. Among the various candidates, endocannabinoids (eCBs), and in particular anandamide (AEA), represent potential biomarkers of human fertility disturbances. Any perturbation of the balance between synthesis and degradation of eCBs will result in local changes of their tone in human female and male reproductive tracts, which in turn regulates various pathophysiological processes, oocyte and sperm maturation included. Methods: PubMed and Web of Science databases were searched for papers using relevant keywords like 'biomarker', 'endocannabinoid', 'infertility', 'pregnancy' and 'reproduction'. Results: In this review, we discuss different studies on the measurements of AEA and related eCBs in human reproductive cells, tissues and fluids, where the local contribution of these bioactive lipids could be critical in ensuring normal sperm fertilizing ability and pregnancy. Conclusion: Based on the available data, we suggest that the AEA tone has the potential to be exploited as a novel diagnostic biomarker of infertility, to be used in association with assays of conventional hormones (e.g. progesterone, β-chorionic gonadotrophin) and semen analysis. However further quantitative research of its predictive capacity is required.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberdmu004
Pages (from-to)501-516
Number of pages16
JournalHuman Reproduction Update
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Biomarkers
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Human reproduction
  • Infertility
  • Pregnancy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynaecology
  • Reproductive Medicine


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