Purpose of review: Dietary saturated fatty acids (SFAs) have been implicated in promoting the metabolic syndrome and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Recent evidence suggests that SFAs promote the metabolic syndrome by activating Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4). Here we examine emerging molecular evidence that SFAs directly engage pathways of innate immunity, thereby promoting inflammatory aspects of the metabolic syndrome.
Recent findings: Accumulation of SFA in the body is tightly regulated by stearoyl-CoA desaturase 1, an enzyme that converts endogenous SFA to monounsaturated fatty acids. Recent studies have demonstrated that the accumulation of SFA seen with genetic deletion or inhibition of stearoyl-CoA desaturase 1 promotes inflammation, TLR4 hypersensitivity, and accelerated atherosclerosis. Therefore, stearoyl-CoA desaturase 1 may play an unexpected role in suppressing inflammation by preventing excessive accumulation of endogenous SFA-derived TLR4 agonists. In parallel, several independent laboratories have demonstrated that TLR4 is necessary for dietary SFAs to induce obesity, insulin resistance, and vascular inflammation in rodent models.
Summary: The metabolic syndrome and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease have long been linked to dietary SFA intake and inflammation. Recent mechanistic insights into how SFAs and downstream metabolites can potentiate inflammation-driven metabolic disease are discussed here.