Endocannabinoids: Friends and foes of reproduction

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Endocannabinoids are fatty acid amides like anandamide (AEA), and monoacylglycerols like 2-arachidonoylglycerol, that bind to cannabinoid, vanilloid and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors. Their biological actions are controlled through not yet fully characterized cellular mechanisms. These compounds, together with their related enzymes, that include key proteins for the synthesis and degradation of endocannabinoids, cannabinoid and non-cannabinoid receptors, and purported membrane transporter(s), form the "endocannabinoid system (ECS)". In the past few years AEA and related ECS elements have emerged as essential players in various aspects of human reproduction, both for males and females. Here, the key features of the ECS and the potential of its components to direct human fertility towards a positive or negative end will be reviewed. In particular, the involvement of AEA and related ECS elements in regulating embryo oviductal transport, blastocyst implantation and placental development (in females), and sperm survival, motility, capacitation and acrosome reaction (in males) will be addressed, as well as the role of endocannabinoids in sperm-oviduct interactions. Additionally, the possibility that blood AEA and its hydrolase FAAH may represent reliable diagnostic markers of natural and assisted reproduction in humans will be discussed, along with the therapeutic exploitation of ECS-oriented drugs as useful fertility enhancers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)344-354
Number of pages11
JournalProgress in Lipid Research
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2009


  • Endocannabinoid system
  • Human reproduction
  • Metabolism
  • Oocyte
  • Oviduct
  • Placenta
  • Signal transduction
  • Sperm

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology
  • Biochemistry


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