DOI: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000003015 ISSN:

Serum levels of endocannabinoids and related lipids in painful vs painless diabetic neuropathy: results from the Pain in Neuropathy Study

Emmanuel Bäckryd, Andreas Themistocleous, Niclas Stensson, Andrew S. C. Rice, Solomon Tesfaye, David L. Bennett, Björn Gerdle, Bijar Ghafouri
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine
  • Neurology (clinical)
  • Neurology


N-arachidonoylethanolamine (also known as anandamide) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol are activators of the cannabinoid receptors. The endocannabinoid system also includes structurally and functionally related lipid mediators that do not target cannabinoid receptors, such as oleoylethanolamide, palmitoylethanolamide, and stearoylethanolamide. These bioactive lipids are involved in various physiological processes, including regulation of pain. The primary aim of the study was to analyze associations between serum levels of these lipids and pain in participants in the Pain in Neuropathy Study, an observational, cross-sectional, multicentre, research project in which diabetic patients with painless or painful neuropathy underwent deep phenotyping. Our hypothesis was that painful neuropathy would be associated with higher levels of the 5 lipids compared with painless neuropathy. Secondary aims were to analyze other patient-reported outcome measures and clinical data in relationship to lipid levels. The lipid mediators were analyzed in serum samples using liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS). Serum levels of anandamide were significantly higher in the painful group, but the effect size was small (Cohen d = 0.31). Using cluster analysis of lipid data, patients were dichotomized into a “high-level” endocannabinoid group and a “low-level” group. In the high-level group, 61% of patients had painful neuropathy, compared with 45% in the low-level group (P = 0.039). This work is of a correlative nature only, and the relevance of these findings to the search for analgesics targeting the endocannabinoid system needs to be determined in future studies.

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