Chan, Hsiu-Wen, McKirdy, Natalie C., Peiris, Hassendrini N., Rice, Gregory E. and Mitchell, Murray D. (2013) The role of endocannabinoids in pregnancy. Reproduction, 1463: R101-R109. doi:10.1530/REP-12-0508
Endocannabinoids are a family of lipid signalling molecules. As with prostaglandins (PGs), endocannabinoids are derived from polyunsaturated fatty acids and affect cell function via receptor-mediated mechanisms. They also bind to PG receptors, although at a lower affinity. The endocannabinoid network is regulated in pregnancy from embryo development to labour onset. Even small changes in endocannabinoid exposure can retard embryo development and affect implantation success. There is now compelling evidence that aberrant expression of factors involved in the endocannabinoid pathway in the placenta and circulating lymphocytes results in spontaneous miscarriage and poor pregnancy outcomes. It is likely that competition between endocannabinoids, PGs and other similar lipids ultimately determines how phospholipid/fatty acid substrates are metabolised and, thus, the balance between the uterotonic and tocolytic activities. We, therefore, hypothesise that endocannabinoid profiles may be used as a biomarker to predict and/or identify spontaneous labour onset.