Bioactive dietary long-chain fatty acids: emerging mechanisms of action

Br J Nutr. 2008 Dec;100(6):1152-7. doi: 10.1017/S0007114508992576. Epub 2008 May 20.


The plasma membranes of all eukaryotic cells contain heterogeneous self-organising intrinsically unstable liquid ordered domains or lipid assemblies in which key signal transduction proteins are localised. These assemblies are classified as 'lipid rafts' (10-200 nm), which are composed mostly of cholesterol and sphingolipid microdomains and therefore do not integrate well into the fluid phospholipid bilayers. In addition, caveolae represent a subtype of lipid raft macrodomain that form flask-shaped membrane invaginations containing structural proteins, i.e. caveolins. With respect to the diverse biological effects of long-chain PUFA, increasing evidence suggests that n-3 PUFA and perhaps conjugated fatty acids uniquely alter the basic properties of cell membranes. Because of its polyunsaturation, DHA and possibly conjugated linoleic acid are sterically incompatible with sphingolipid and cholesterol and, therefore, appear to alter lipid raft behaviour and protein function. The present review examines the evidence indicating that dietary sources of n-3 PUFA can profoundly alter the biochemical make up of lipid rafts/caveolae microdomains, thereby influencing cell signalling, protein trafficking and cell cytokinetics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Membrane / drug effects
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated / pharmacology*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / pharmacology
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Linoleic Acids, Conjugated / pharmacology
  • Membrane Microdomains / drug effects


  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Linoleic Acids, Conjugated
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids