Fatty acid oxidation and signaling in apoptosis

Biol Chem. Mar-Apr 2002;383(3-4):425-42. doi: 10.1515/BC.2002.046.


It is well established that fatty acid metabolites of cyclooxygenase, lipoxygenase (LOX), and cytochrome P450 are implicated in essential aspects of cellular signaling including the induction of programmed cell death. Here we review the roles of enzymatic and non-enzymatic products of polyunsaturated fatty acids in controlling cell growth and apoptosis. Also, the spontaneous oxidation of polyunsaturated fatty acids yields reactive aldehydes and other products of lipid peroxidation that are potentially toxic to cells and may also signal apoptosis. Significant conflicting data in terms of the role of LOX enzymes are highlighted, prompting a re-evaluation of the relationship between LOX and prostate cancer cell survival. We include new data showing that LNCaP, PC3, and Du145 cells express much lower levels of 5-LOX mRNA and protein compared with normal prostate epithelial cells (NHP2) and primary prostate carcinoma cells (TP1). Although the 5-LOX activating protein inhibitor MK886 killed these cells, another 5-LOX inhibitor AA861 hardly showed any effect. These observations suggest that 5-LOX is unlikely to be a prostate cancer cell survival factor, implying that the mechanisms by which LOX inhibitors induce apoptosis are more complex than expected. This review also suggests several mechanisms involving peroxisome proliferator activated receptor activation, BCL proteins, thiol regulation, and mitochondrial and kinase signaling by which cell death may be produced in response to changes in non-esterified and non-protein bound fatty acid levels. Overall, this review provides a context within which the effects of fatty acids and fatty acid oxidation products on signal transduction pathways, particularly those involved in apoptosis, can be considered in terms of their overall importance relative to the much better studied protein or peptide signaling factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / physiology*
  • Humans
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System / physiology
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Transcription Factors / physiology


  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear
  • Transcription Factors