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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1996 Apr 30;93(9):3984-9.

The ALIAmide palmitoylethanolamide and cannabinoids, but not anandamide, are protective in a delayed postglutamate paradigm of excitotoxic death in cerebellar granule neurons.

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Researchlife S.c.p.A., Centro di Ricerca Biomedica-Ospedale Civile, Veneto, TV, Italy.


The amino acid L-glutamate is a neurotransmitter that mediates fast neuronal excitation in a majority of synapses in the central nervous system. Glutamate stimulates both N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) and non-NMDA receptors. While activation of NMDA receptors has been implicated in a variety of neurophysiologic processes, excessive NMDA receptor stimulation (excitotoxicity) is thought to be primarily responsible for neuronal injury in a wide variety of acute neurological disorders including hypoxia-ischemia, seizures, and trauma. Very little is known about endogenous molecules and mechanisms capable of modulating excitotoxic neuronal death. Saturated N-acylethanolamides like palmitoylethanolamide accumulate in ischemic tissues and are synthesized by neurons upon excitatory amino acid receptor activation. Here we report that palmitoylethanolamide, but not the cognate N-acylamide anandamide (the ethanolamide of arachidonic acid), protects cultured mouse cerebellar granule cells against glutamate toxicity in a delayed postagonist paradigm. Palmitoylethanolamide reduced this injury in a concentration-dependent manner and was maximally effective when added 15-min postglutamate. Cannabinoids, which like palmitoylethanolamide are functionally active at the peripheral cannabinoid receptor CB2 on mast cells, also prevented neuron loss in this delayed postglutamate model. Furthermore, the neuroprotective effects of palmitoylethanolamide, as well as that of the active cannabinoids, were efficiently antagonized by the candidate central cannabinoid receptor (CB1) agonist anandamide. Analogous pharmacological behaviors have been observed for palmitoylethanolamide (ALI-Amides) in downmodulating mast cell activation. Cerebellar granule cells expressed mRNA for CB1 and CB2 by in situ hybridization, while two cannabinoid binding sites were detected in cerebellar membranes. The results suggest that (i) non-CB1 cannabinoid receptors control, upon agonist binding, the downstream consequences of an excitotoxic stimulus; (ii) palmitoylethanolamide, unlike anandamide, behaves as an endogenous agonist for CB2-like receptors on granule cells; and (iii) activation of such receptors may serve to downmodulate deleterious cellular processes following pathological events or noxious stimuli in both the nervous and immune systems.

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