Resveratrol, a stilbenoid antioxidant found in grapes, wine, peanuts and other berries, has been reported to have hypolipidemic properties. We investigated whether resveratrol and its three analogues (pterostilbene, piceatannol, and resveratrol trimethyl ether) would activate the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha (PPARalpha) isoform. This nuclear receptor is proposed to mediate the activity of lipid-lowering drugs such as the fibrates. The four stilbenes were evaluated at 1, 10, 100, and 300 microM along with ciprofibrate (positive control), for the activation of endogenous PPARalpha in H4IIEC3 cells. Cells were transfected with a peroxisome proliferator response element-AB (rat fatty acyl CoA beta-oxidase response element)-luciferase gene reporter construct. Pterostilbene demonstrated the highest induction of PPARalpha showing 8- and 14-fold increases in luciferase activity at 100 and 300 microM, respectively, relative to the control. The maximal luciferase activity responses to pterostilbene were higher than those obtained with the hypolipidemic drug, ciprofibrate (33910 and 19460 relative luciferase units, respectively), at 100 microM. Hypercholesterolemic hamsters fed with pterostilbene at 25 ppm of the diet showed 29% lower plasma low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, 7% higher plasma high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and 14% lower plasma glucose as compared to the control group. The LDL/HDL ratio was also statistically significantly lower for pterostilbene, as compared to results for the control animals, at this diet concentration. Results from in vitro studies showed that pterostilbene acts as a PPARalpha agonist and may be a more effective PPARalpha agonist and hypolipidemic agent than resveratrol. In vivo studies demonstrate that pterostilbene possesses lipid and glucose lowering effects.