Cannabinoids have been always identified as harmful drugs because of their negative effects on male and female reproduction. The discovery of the 'endocannabinoid system (ECS)', composed of bioactive lipids (endocannabinoids), their receptors and their metabolic enzymes, and the generation of mouse models missing cannabinoid receptors or other elements of the ECS, has enabled a wealth of information on the significance of endocannabinoid signalling in multiple reproductive events: Sertoli cell survival, spermatogenesis, placentation, fertilization, preimplantation embryo development, implantation and postimplantation embryonic growth. These studies have also opened new perspectives in clinical applications, pointing to the ECS as a new target for correcting infertility and for improving reproductive health in humans. This review will focus on the involvement of type-2 cannabinoid (CB2) receptors in reproductive biology, covering both the male and female sides. It will also discuss the potential relevance of the immunological activity of CB2 at the maternal/foetal interface, as well as the distinctiveness of CB2 versus type-1 cannabinoid (CB1) receptors that might be exploited for a receptor subtype-specific regulation of fertility. In this context, the different signalling pathways triggered by CB1 and CB2 (especially those controlling the intracellular tone of nitric oxide), the different activation of CB1 and CB2 by endogenous agonists (like anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol) and the different localization of CB1 and CB2 within membrane subdomains, termed 'lipid rafts', will be discussed. It is hoped that CB2-dependent endocannabinoid signalling might become a useful target for correcting infertility, in both men and women.
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