Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA), the naturally occurring amide of palmitic acid and ethanolamine, reduces pain and inflammation through an as-yet-uncharacterized mechanism. Here, we identify the nuclear receptor peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-alpha (PPAR-alpha) as the molecular target responsible for the anti-inflammatory properties of PEA. PEA selectively activates PPAR-alpha in vitro with an EC(50) value of 3.1 +/- 0.4 microM and induces the expression of PPAR-alpha mRNA when applied topically to mouse skin. In two animal models, carrageenan-induced paw edema and phorbol ester-induced ear edema, PEA attenuates inflammation in wild-type mice but has no effect in mice deficient in PPAR-alpha. The natural PPAR-alpha agonist oleoylethanolamide (OEA) and the synthetic PPAR-alpha agonists GW7647 and Wy-14643 mimic these effects in a PPAR-alpha-dependent manner. These findings indicate that PPAR-alpha mediates the anti-inflammatory effects of PEA and suggest that this fatty-acid ethanolamide may serve, like its analog OEA, as an endogenous ligand of PPAR-alpha.