It has been demonstrated that the endogenous cannabinoid receptor ligand, anandamide, and other N-acylethanolamines (NAEs), accumulate during neuronal injury in vitro, a process that may be linked to the neuroprotective effects of NAEs. The crucial step for generation of NAEs is the synthesis of the corresponding precursors, N-acylethanolamine phospholipids (NAPEs). However, it is unknown whether this key event for NAE formation is regulated differently in the context of insults causing necrotic or apoptotic neuronal death. To address this question, we monitored a range of cortical NAPE species in three infant rat models of in vivo neurodegeneration: (i) necrosis caused by intrastriatal injection of NMDA (25 nmol); (ii) apoptosis induced by systemic administration of the NMDA-receptor antagonist (+)MK-801 (3 x 0.5 mg/kg, i.p.); and (iii) apoptosis following focal necrosis triggered by concussive head trauma. A marked increase of all NAPE species was observed in both hemispheres 4 and 24 h after NMDA-induced injury, with a relatively larger increase in N-stearoyl-containing NAPE species. Thus, the percentage of the anandamide precursor fell from 1.1 to 0.5 mol %. In contrast, administration of (+)MK-801 did not alter cortical NAPE levels. Concussion head trauma resulted in a similar but less pronounced upregulation of NAPE levels at both 4 and 24 h as compared to NMDA injections. Increased levels of NAPE 24 h post-trauma possibly reflect that necrosis is still ongoing at this time point. Consequently, our data suggest that excitotoxic necrotic mechanisms of neurodegeneration, as opposed to apoptotic neurodegeneration, have a profound effect on in vivo NAE precursor homeostasis.