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Cytochrome P450 (P450) 4X1 is one of the so-called 'orphan' P450s without an assigned biological function. Codon-optimized P450 4X1 and a number of N-terminal modified sequences were expressed in Escherichia coli. Native P450 4X1 showed a characteristic P450 spectrum but low expression in E. coli DH5alpha cells (< 100 nmol P450.L(-1)). The highest level of expression (300-450 nmol P450.L(-1) culture) was achieved with a bicistronic P450 4X1 construct (N-terminal MAKKTSSKGKL, change of E2A, amino acids 3-44 truncated). Anandamide (arachidonoyl ethanolamide) has emerged as an important signaling molecule in the neurovascular cascade. Recombinant P450 4X1 protein, co-expressed with human NADPH-P450 reductase in E. coli, was found to convert the natural endocannabinoid anandamide to a single monooxygenated product, 14,15-epoxyeicosatrienoic (EET) ethanolamide. A stable anandamide analog (CD-25) was also converted to a monooxygenated product. Arachidonic acid was oxidized more slowly to 14,15- and 8,9-EETs but only in the presence of cytochrome b(5). Other fatty acids were investigated as putative substrates but showed only little or minor oxidation. Real-time PCR analysis demonstrated extrahepatic mRNA expression, including several human brain structures (cerebellum, amygdala and basal ganglia), in addition to expression in human heart, liver, prostate and breast. The highest mRNA expression levels were detected in amygdala and skin. The ability of P450 4X1 to generate anandamide derivatives and the mRNA distribution pattern suggest a potential role for P450 4X1 in anandamide signaling in the brain.