Fatty acid interactions with proteins: what X-ray crystal and NMR solution structures tell us

Prog Lipid Res. 2004 May;43(3):177-99. doi: 10.1016/j.plipres.2003.09.002.


The interactions of fatty acids with proteins have been studied by a variety of conventional approaches for decades. However, only limited aspects of fatty acid-protein interactions have been elucidated, even with the integration of information gleaned from the many techniques. Judgments must be made about what information is most reliable, particularly when derivatives of fatty acids are substituted for natural fatty acids. In recent years, the application of techniques of structural biology has brought about dramatic advances in this important area of lipid research. High-resolution crystallographic and NMR structures of several proteins with bound fatty acids reveal the complete tertiary structure of the protein and molecular details of fatty acid-protein interactions. The examples presented include most of the known structures of (non-enzymatic) proteins that bind fatty acids. The proteins are found in very different compartments of cells and organisms: the plasma compartment (human serum albumin); the cytosolic compartment of mammalian cells (fatty acid- binding proteins); the cytosol of plant cells (nonspecific lipid-transfer protein); the nucleus of mammalian cells (peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor and hepatic nuclear factor 4); and a bacterial membrane (halorhodopsin). This review discusses the structural features of these proteins and their binding pocket(s) and compares the specific modes of their interactions with fatty acids.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carrier Proteins / chemistry
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • Crystallography, X-Ray / methods*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Fatty Acid-Binding Proteins
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Halorhodopsins / metabolism
  • Hepatocyte Nuclear Factor 4
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy / methods*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Phosphoproteins / metabolism
  • Proteins / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / metabolism
  • Serum Albumin / chemistry
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • Carrier Proteins
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Fatty Acid-Binding Proteins
  • Fatty Acids
  • Halorhodopsins
  • Hepatocyte Nuclear Factor 4
  • Ligands
  • Phosphoproteins
  • Proteins
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear
  • Serum Albumin
  • Transcription Factors
  • lipid transfer protein