The chlorophyll-derived metabolite phytanic acid induces white adipocyte differentiation

Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2002 Sep;26(9):1277-80. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0802068.


Phytanic acid is a derivative of the phytol side-chain of chlorophyll. It appears in humans following the ingestion of fat-containing foods and is present in human blood at a low micromolar concentration. It may activate retinoid X receptors (RXR) or peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) alpha in vitro. Phytanic acid induced the adipocyte differentiation of 3T3-L1 cells in culture as assessed by accumulation of lipid droplets and induction of the aP2 mRNA marker. This effect was mimicked by a synthetic activator of RXR but not by a PPARalpha agonist or by palmitic acid. In human pre-adipocytes in primary culture, phytanic acid also induced adipocyte differentiation. These findings indicate that phytanic acid may act as a natural rexinoid in adipose cells and suggest a potential use in the treatment of human type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes / cytology
  • Adipocytes / drug effects*
  • Blotting, Northern
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects*
  • Cells, Cultured / metabolism
  • Chlorophyll / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Phytanic Acid / pharmacology*


  • Chlorophyll
  • Phytanic Acid