N-acylethanolamines (NAEs) are lipids upregulated in response to cell and tissue injury and are involved in cytoprotection. Arachidonylethanolamide (AEA) is a well characterized NAE that is an endogenous ligand at cannabinoid and vanilloid receptors, but it exists in small quantities relative to other NAE types. The abundance of other NAE species, such as palmitoylethanolamine (PEA), together with their largely unknown function and receptors, has prompted us to examine the neuroprotective properties and mechanism of action of PEA. We hypothesized that PEA protects HT22 cells from oxidative stress and activates neuroprotective kinase signaling pathways.
Indeed PEA protected HT22 cells from oxidative stress in part by mediating an increase in phosphorylated Akt (pAkt) and ERK1/2 immunoreactivity as well as pAkt nuclear translocation. These changes take place within a time frame consistent with neuroprotection. Furthermore, we determined that changes in pAkt immunoreactivity elicited by PEA were not mediated by activation of cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB2), thus indicating a novel mechanism of action. These results establish a role for PEA as a neuroprotectant against oxidative stress, which occurs in a variety of neurodegenerative diseases.
The results from this study reveal that PEA protects HT22 cells from oxidative stress and alters the localization and expression levels of kinases known to be involved in neuroprotection by a novel mechanism. Overall, these results identify PEA as a neuroprotectant with potential as a possible therapeutic agent in neurodegenerative diseases involving oxidative stress.