Biophysical and biochemical mechanisms by which dietary N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids from fish oil disrupt membrane lipid rafts

J Nutr Biochem. 2012 Feb;23(2):101-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2011.07.001. Epub 2011 Dec 1.


N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) from fish oil exert their functional effects by targeting multiple mechanisms. One mechanism to emerge in the past decade is the ability of n-3 PUFA acyl chains to perturb the molecular organization of plasma membrane sphingolipid/cholesterol-enriched lipid raft domains. These domains are nanometer-scale assemblies that coalesce to compartmentalize select proteins for optimal function. Here we review recent evidence on how n-3 PUFAs modify lipid rafts from biophysical and biochemical experiments from several different model systems. A central theme emerges from these studies. N-3 PUFA acyl chains display tremendous conformational flexibility and a low affinity for cholesterol and saturated acyl chains. This unique flexibility of n-3 PUFA acyl chains impacts the organization of inner and outer leaflet lipid rafts by disrupting acyl chain packing and molecular order within rafts. Ultimately, the disruption in raft organization has consequences for protein clustering and thereby signaling. Overall, elucidating the complex mechanisms by which n-3 PUFA acyl chains reorganize membrane architecture will enhance the translation of these fatty acids into the clinic for treating several diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biophysics
  • Cholesterol / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / chemistry
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / pharmacology*
  • Fish Oils / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Lipids / metabolism*
  • Membrane Microdomains / chemistry
  • Membrane Microdomains / drug effects
  • Membrane Microdomains / metabolism*


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fish Oils
  • Membrane Lipids
  • Cholesterol