The Effect of Natural and Synthetic Fatty Acids on Membrane Structure, Microdomain Organization, Cellular Functions and Human Health

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2014 Jun;1838(6):1518-28. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamem.2013.12.021. Epub 2014 Jan 3.


This review deals with the effects of synthetic and natural fatty acids on the biophysical properties of membranes, and on their implication on cell function. Natural fatty acids are constituents of more complex lipids, like triacylglycerides or phospholipids, which are used by cells to store and obtain energy, as well as for structural purposes. Accordingly, natural and synthetic fatty acids may modify the structure of the lipid membrane, altering its microdomain organization and other physical properties, and provoking changes in cell signaling. Therefore, by modulating fatty acids it is possible to regulate the structure of the membrane, influencing the cell processes that are reliant on this structure and potentially reverting pathological cell dysfunctions that may provoke cancer, diabetes, hypertension, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. The so-called Membrane Lipid Therapy offers a strategy to regulate the membrane composition through drug administration, potentially reverting pathological processes by re-adapting cell membrane structure. Certain fatty acids and their synthetic derivatives are described here that may potentially be used in such therapies, where the cell membrane itself can be considered as a target to combat disease. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Membrane Structure and Function: Relevance in the Cell's Physiology, Pathology and Therapy.

Keywords: 2-Hydroxylated fatty acid; Fatty acid; Membrane domains; Membrane structure.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Membrane Structures / chemistry*
  • Cell Membrane Structures / metabolism
  • Cell Physiological Phenomena*
  • Fatty Acids / chemistry*
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Microdomains / chemistry*
  • Membrane Microdomains / metabolism


  • Fatty Acids