Essential fatty acids and their metabolites as modulators of stem cell biology with reference to inflammation, cancer, and metastasis

Cancer Metastasis Rev. 2011 Dec;30(3-4):311-24. doi: 10.1007/s10555-011-9316-x.


Stem cells are pluripotent and expected to be of benefit in the management of coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes mellitus, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease in which pro-inflammatory cytokines are increased. Identifying endogenous bioactive molecules that have a regulatory role in stem cell survival, proliferation, and differentiation may aid in the use of stem cells in various diseases including cancer. Essential fatty acids form precursors to both pro- and anti-inflammatory molecules have been shown to regulate gene expression, enzyme activity, modulate inflammation and immune response, gluconeogenesis via direct and indirect pathways, function directly as agonists of a number of G protein-coupled receptors, activate phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/Akt and p44/42 mitogen-activated protein kinases, and stimulate cell proliferation via Ca(2+), phospholipase C/protein kinase, events that are also necessary for stem cell survival, proliferation, and differentiation. Hence, it is likely that bioactive lipids play a significant role in various diseases by modulating the proliferation and differentiation of embryonic stem cells in addition to their capacity to suppress inflammation. Ephrin Bs and reelin, adhesion molecules, and microRNAs regulate neuronal migration and cancer cell metastasis. Polyunsaturated fatty acids and their products seem to modulate the expression of ephrin Bs and reelin and several adhesion molecules and microRNAs suggesting that bioactive lipids participate in neuronal regeneration and stem cell proliferation, migration, and cancer cell metastasis. Thus, there appears to be a close interaction among essential fatty acids, their bioactive products, and inflammation and cancer growth and its metastasis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Coronary Disease / metabolism
  • Eicosanoids / metabolism
  • Embryonic Development
  • Fatty Acids, Essential / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / metabolism*
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Reelin Protein
  • Stem Cells / metabolism*


  • Eicosanoids
  • Fatty Acids, Essential
  • Reelin Protein
  • RELN protein, human