Anandamide (N-arachidonoylethanolamine, AEA) is a major endocannabinoid, shown to impair mouse pregnancy and embryo development and to induce apoptosis in blastocysts. Here, we review the roles of AEA, of the AEA-binding cannabinoid (CB) receptors, of the selective AEA membrane transporter (AMT), and of the AEA-hydrolyzing enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), in human gestation. In particular, we discuss the interplay between the endocannabinoid system and the hormone-cytokine array involved in the control of human pregnancy, showing that the endocannabinoids take part in the immunological adaptation occurring during early pregnancy. In this line, we discuss the critical role of FAAH in human peripheral lymphocytes, showing that the expression of this enzyme is regulated by progesterone, Th1 and Th2 cytokines, which also regulate fertility. Moreover, we show that AEA and the other endocannabinoid, 2-arachidonoylglycerol, inhibit the release of the fertility-promoting cytokine leukemia inhibitory factor from human lymphocytes. Taken together, low FAAH and consistently high blood levels of AEA, but not CB receptors or AMT can be early (<8 weeks of gestation) markers of spontaneous abortion, potentially useful as diagnostic tools for large-scale, routine monitoring of gestation in humans. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
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