Receptor-independent actions of cannabinoids on cell membranes: Focus on endocannabinoids

Murat Oz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

140 Citations (Scopus)


Cannabinoids are a structurally diverse group of mostly lipophilic molecules that bind to cannabinoid receptors. In fact, endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids) are a class of signaling lipids consisting of amides and esters of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are synthesized from lipid precursors in plasma membranes via Ca2+ or G-protein-dependent processes and exhibit cannabinoid-like actions by binding to cannabinoid receptors. However, endocannabinoids can produce effects that are not mediated by these receptors. In pharmacologically relevant concentrations, endocannabinoids modulate the functional properties of voltage-gated ion channels including Ca2+ channels, Na+ channels, various types of K+ channels, and ligand-gated ion channels such as serotonin type 3, nicotinic acetylcholine, and glycine receptors. In addition, modulatory effects of endocannabinoids on other ion-transporting membrane proteins such as transient potential receptor-class channels, gap junctions and transporters for neurotransmitters have also been demonstrated. Furthermore, functional properties of G-protein-coupled receptors for different types of neurotransmitters and neuropeptides are altered by direct actions of endocannabinoids. Although the mechanisms of these effects are currently not clear, it is likely that these direct actions of endocannabinoids are due to their lipophilic structures. These findings indicate that additional molecular targets for endocannabinoids exist and that these targets may represent novel sites for cannabinoids to alter either the excitability of the neurons or the response of the neuronal systems. This review focuses on the results of recent studies indicating that beyond their receptor-mediated effects, endocannabinoids alter the functions of ion channels and other integral membrane proteins directly.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-144
Number of pages31
JournalPharmacology and Therapeutics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Arachidonic acid
  • Cannabinoids
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Fatty acids
  • Ion channels
  • Prostaglandins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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