Occurrence, biosynthesis and functions of N-acylphosphatidylethanolamines (NAPE): not just precursors of N-acylethanolamines (NAE)

Biochimie. 2012 Jan;94(1):75-85. doi: 10.1016/j.biochi.2011.04.023. Epub 2011 May 10.


N-acylphosphatidylethanolamine (NAPE) is a minor phospholipid resulting from the transfer of an acyl chain from an acyl donor to the primary amine of the ethanolamine moiety of phosphatidylethanolamine (PE). Occurring in plant and animal kingdoms as well as in prokaryotic cells, it is synthesized in higher amounts in membranes during cellular stresses and tissue damage, and it is widely thought to be the precursor of the lipid mediator, N-acylethanolamine (NAE), which modulates the endocannabinoid signaling pathway and therefore regulates various physiological processes. However, recent studies have shown that NAPE is also a bioactive molecule that is involved in several physiological functions. The present paper reviews the occurrence of NAPE in animals and plants and focuses on the various properties of NAPE observed in vitro and in vivo. The different metabolic pathways promoting the synthesis and degradation of NAPE are also discussed and the differences between animals and plants are underlined.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators / metabolism
  • Ethanolamines / metabolism*
  • Phosphatidylethanolamines / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Ethanolamines
  • N-acylethanolamines
  • Phosphatidylethanolamines
  • phosphatidylethanolamine