Characterization of the endocannabinoid system in mouse embryonic stem cells

Monica Bari, Marianna Tedesco, Natalia Battista, Nicoletta Pasquariello, Mariangela Pucci, Valeria Gasperi, Maria Lucia Scaldaferri, Donatella Farini, Massimo De Felici, Mauro MacCarrone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


In this study, we have ascertained the presence and functionality in mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs) of members of the endocannabinoid system that have been proposed as possible modulators of the survival and differentiation of various type of stem cells. We show that mouse ESCs, in addition to classical CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors, express the transient receptor potential vanilloid receptor, at mRNA, protein, and binding levels. Remarkably, we demonstrate that ESCs have the mRNA, protein, and enzyme activity to synthesize and degrade the prominent endocannabinoids anandamide (through N-acyl-phosphatidylethanolamine-specific phospholipase D and fatty acid amide hydrolase) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (through diacylglycerol lipase and monoacylglycerol lipase). In addition, both endocannabinoids were detected in ESCs that were also shown to constitutively release a fatty acid amide hydrolase-activating compound. Finally, we document that the stimulation of ESCs by methanandamide, a nonhydrolysable analog of anandamide, does not lead to overt alteration of the expression of Oct3/4, Nanog, and Cdx2, genes that are involved in early cell fate in the preimplantation embryo and stemness, or of the expression patterns of Brachyury and Hnf4, genes that are used as late markers of lineage differentiation capability of ESC-derived embryoid bodies. Similarly ineffective on the expression of the tested stemness genes was 2-arachidonoylglycerol. Taken together, these results confirm and extend the notion that ESCs express several functional members of the endocannabinoid system, but they leave open the question about their role in stem cells as modulators of stemness and differentiation potential.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-147
Number of pages9
JournalStem Cells and Development
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2011


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Hematology

Cite this

Bari, M., Tedesco, M., Battista, N., Pasquariello, N., Pucci, M., Gasperi, V., Scaldaferri, M. L., Farini, D., De Felici, M., & MacCarrone, M. (2011). Characterization of the endocannabinoid system in mouse embryonic stem cells. Stem Cells and Development, 20(1), 139-147.