Palmitoylethanolamide counteracts substance P-induced mast cell activation in vitro by stimulating diacylglycerol lipase activity

J Neuroinflammation. 2019 Dec 26;16(1):274. doi: 10.1186/s12974-019-1671-5.


Background: Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) is a pleiotropic endogenous lipid mediator currently used as a "dietary food for special medical purposes" against neuropathic pain and neuro-inflammatory conditions. Several mechanisms underlie PEA actions, among which the "entourage" effect, consisting of PEA potentiation of endocannabinoid signaling at either cannabinoid receptors or transient receptor potential vanilloid type-1 (TRPV1) channels. Here, we report novel molecular mechanisms through which PEA controls mast cell degranulation and substance P (SP)-induced histamine release in rat basophilic leukemia (RBL-2H3) cells, a mast cell model.

Methods: RBL-2H3 cells stimulated with SP were treated with PEA in the presence and absence of a cannabinoid type-2 (CB2) receptor antagonist (AM630), or a diacylglycerol lipase (DAGL) enzyme inhibitor (OMDM188) to inhibit the biosynthesis of the endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). The release of histamine was measured by ELISA and β-hexosaminidase release and toluidine blue staining were used as indices of degranulation. 2-AG levels were measured by LC-MS. The mRNA expression of proposed PEA targets (Cnr1, Cnr2, Trpv1, Ppara and Gpr55), and of PEA and endocannabinoid biosynthetic (Napepld, Dagla and Daglb) and catabolic (Faah, Naaa and Mgl) enzymes were also measured. The effects of PEA on the activity of DAGL-α or -β enzymes were assessed in COS-7 cells overexpressing the human recombinant enzyme or in RBL-2H3 cells, respectively.

Results: SP increased the number of degranulated RBL-2H3 cells and triggered the release of histamine. PEA counteracted these effects in a manner antagonized by AM630. PEA concomitantly increased the levels of 2-AG in SP-stimulated RBL-2H3 cells, and this effect was reversed by OMDM188. PEA significantly stimulated DAGL-α and -β activity and, consequently, 2-AG biosynthesis in cell-free systems. Co-treatment with PEA and 2-AG at per se ineffective concentrations downmodulated SP-induced release of histamine and degranulation, and this effect was reversed by OMDM188.

Conclusions: Activation of CB2 underlies the inhibitory effects on SP-induced RBL-2H3 cell degranulation by PEA alone. We demonstrate for the first time that the effects in RBL-2H3 cells of PEA are due to the stimulation of 2-AG biosynthesis by DAGLs.

Keywords: 2-arachidonoylglycerol; Diacylglycerol lipase; Mast cells; Neuroinflammation; Palmitoylethanolamide.

MeSH terms

  • Amides
  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / pharmacology*
  • Cell Degranulation / drug effects*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Ethanolamines / pharmacology*
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Lipoprotein Lipase / metabolism*
  • Mast Cells / drug effects*
  • Mast Cells / enzymology
  • Palmitic Acids / pharmacology*
  • Rats
  • Substance P / pharmacology


  • Amides
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Ethanolamines
  • Palmitic Acids
  • Substance P
  • palmidrol
  • Lipoprotein Lipase