Saturated long-chain fatty acids activate inflammatory signaling in astrocytes

J Neurochem. 2012 Mar;120(6):1060-71. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-4159.2012.07660.x. Epub 2012 Feb 6.


This study describes the effects of long-chain fatty acids on inflammatory signaling in cultured astrocytes. Data show that the saturated fatty acid palmitic acid, as well as lauric acid and stearic acid, trigger the release of TNFα and IL-6 from astrocytes. Unsaturated fatty acids were unable to induce cytokine release from cultured astrocytes. Furthermore, the effects of palmitic acid on cytokine release require Toll-like receptor 4 rather than CD36 or Toll-like receptor 2, and do not depend on palmitic acid metabolism to palmitoyl-CoA. Inhibitor studies revealed that pharmacologic inhibition of p38 or p42/44 MAPK pathways prevents the pro-inflammatory effects of palmitic acid, whereas JNK and PI3K inhibition does not affect cytokine release. Depletion of microglia from primary astrocyte cultures using the lysosomotropic agent l-leucine methyl ester revealed that the ability of palmitic acid to trigger cytokine release is not dependent on the presence of microglia. Finally, data show that the essential ω-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid acts in a dose-dependent manner to prevent the actions of palmitic acid on inflammatory signaling in astrocytes. Collectively, these data demonstrate the ability of saturated fatty acids to induce astrocyte inflammation in vitro. These data thus raise the possibility that high levels of circulating saturated fatty acids could cause reactive gliosis and brain inflammation in vivo, and could potentially participate in the reported adverse neurologic consequences of obesity and metabolic syndrome.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Astrocytes / drug effects*
  • Brain / cytology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytokines / metabolism*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Interactions
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Male
  • Oleic Acid / pharmacology
  • Palmitic Acid / pharmacology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*
  • Toll-Like Receptor 2 / metabolism
  • Toll-Like Receptor 4 / metabolism


  • Cytokines
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Fatty Acids
  • Toll-Like Receptor 2
  • Toll-Like Receptor 4
  • Oleic Acid
  • Palmitic Acid