Evidence presented over the past 20 years has shown that long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs), especially the n-3 fatty acids such as eicospentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are beneficial for bone health. Some studies in humans indicate that LCPUFAs can increase bone formation, affect peak bone mass in adolescents and reduce bone loss as measured using bone mineral densitometry. The cellular mechanisms of action of the LCPUFAs, however, are complex and involve modulation of fatty acid metabolites such as prostaglandins, resolvins and protectins, several signalling pathways, cytokines and growth factors. LCPUFAs affect receptor activator of nuclear factor κβ (RANK), a receptor found on the osteoclast, the cell causing bone resorption, which controls osteoclast formation. Lipoxygenase (LOX) generated lipid mediators (resolvins, lipoxins, protectins and docosanoids) have both anti-inflammatory and pro-resolving activities. Both resolvins and lipoxins inhibit inflammation-induced bone resorption. Arachidonic acid significantly upregulates inducible NO synthase (iNOS) mRNA expression in human osteoblast-like cells, thereby possibly enhancing osteoclastic activity. The protective effect of EPA on osteoblastogenesis could be mediated by the biphasic cross-talk between PGE(2) and NO production involving COX-2 and iNOS pathways. Other mediators of osteoblast maturation include PPARα ligands such as linoleic acid and possibly DHA in association with bone morphogenic proteins. Since DHA is a weaker ligand for PPARγ, more uncommitted mesenchymal stem cells are thought to differentiate into osteoblasts rather than adipocytes. This review addresses selected cellular mechanisms that may explain the beneficial effects of the LCPUFAs on bone.
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