Dietary fat sensing via fatty acid oxidation in enterocytes: possible role in the control of eating

Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2011 Mar;300(3):R554-65. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00610.2010. Epub 2010 Dec 9.


Various mechanisms detect the presence of dietary triacylglycerols (TAG) in the digestive tract and link TAG ingestion to the regulation of energy homeostasis. We here propose a novel sensing mechanism with the potential to encode dietary TAG-derived energy by translating enterocyte fatty acid oxidation (FAO) into vagal afferent signals controlling eating. Peripheral FAO has long been implicated in the control of eating (141). The prevailing view was that mercaptoacetate (MA) and other FAO inhibitors stimulate eating by modulating vagal afferent signaling from the liver. This concept has been challenged because hepatic parenchymal vagal afferent innervation is scarce and because experimentally induced changes in hepatic FAO often fail to affect eating. Nevertheless, intraperitoneally administered MA acts in the abdomen to stimulate eating because this effect was blocked by subdiaphragmatic vagal deafferentation (21), a surgical technique that eliminates all vagal afferents from the upper gut. These and other data support a role of the small intestine rather than the liver as a FAO sensor that can influence eating. After intrajejunal infusions, MA also stimulated eating in rats through vagal afferent signaling, and after infusion into the superior mesenteric artery, MA increased the activity of celiac vagal afferent fibers originating in the proximal small intestine. Also, pharmacological interference with TAG synthesis targeting the small intestine induced a metabolic profile indicative of increased FAO and inhibited eating in rats on a high-fat diet but not on chow. Finally, cell culture studies indicate that enterocytes oxidize fatty acids, which can be modified pharmacologically. Thus enterocytes may sense dietary TAG-derived fatty acids via FAO and influence eating through changes in intestinal vagal afferent activity. Further studies are necessary to identify the link between enterocyte FAO and vagal afferents and to examine the specificity and potential physiological relevance of such a mechanism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Appetite Regulation* / drug effects
  • Dietary Fats / metabolism*
  • Eating* / drug effects
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Enteric Nervous System / metabolism
  • Enterocytes / drug effects
  • Enterocytes / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Feeding Behavior* / drug effects
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Intestine, Small / drug effects
  • Intestine, Small / innervation
  • Intestine, Small / metabolism*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction* / drug effects
  • Thioglycolates / pharmacology
  • Vagus Nerve / metabolism


  • Dietary Fats
  • Fatty Acids
  • Thioglycolates
  • 2-mercaptoacetate