Analysis of natural product regulation of cannabinoid receptors in the treatment of human disease

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The organized, tightly regulated signaling relays engaged by the cannabinoid receptors (CBs) and their ligands, G proteins and other effectors, together constitute the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system governs many biological functions including cell proliferation, regulation of ion transport and neuronal messaging. This review will firstly examine the physiology of the ECS, briefly discussing some anomalies in the relay of the ECS signaling as these are consequently linked to maladies of global concern including neurological disorders, cardiovascular disease and cancer. While endogenous ligands are crucial for dispatching messages through the ECS, there are also commonalities in binding affinities with copious exogenous ligands, both natural and synthetic. Therefore, this review provides a comparative analysis of both types of exogenous ligands with emphasis on natural products given their putative safer efficacy and the role of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC) in uncovering the ECS. Efficacy is congruent to both types of compounds but noteworthy is the effect of a combination therapy to achieve efficacy without unideal side-effects. An example is Sativex that displayed promise in treating Huntington's disease (HD) in preclinical models allowing for its transition to current clinical investigation. Despite the in vitro and preclinical efficacy of Δ9-THC to treat neurodegenerative ailments, its psychotropic effects limit its clinical applicability to treating feeding disorders. We therefore propose further investigation of other compounds and their combinations such as the triterpene, α,β-amyrin that exhibited greater binding affinity to CB1 than CB2 and was more potent than Δ9-THC and the N-alkylamides that exhibited CB2 selective affinity; the latter can be explored towards peripherally exclusive ECS modulation. The synthetic CB1 antagonist, Rimonabant was pulled from commercial markets for the treatment of diabetes, however its analogue SR144528 maybe an ideal lead molecule towards this end and HU-210 and Org27569 are also promising synthetic small molecules.

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