Short- and medium-chain fatty acids in energy metabolism: the cellular perspective

J Lipid Res. 2016 Jun;57(6):943-54. doi: 10.1194/jlr.R067629. Epub 2016 Apr 14.


Short- and medium-chain fatty acids (SCFAs and MCFAs), independently of their cellular signaling functions, are important substrates of the energy metabolism and anabolic processes in mammals. SCFAs are mostly generated by colonic bacteria and are predominantly metabolized by enterocytes and liver, whereas MCFAs arise mostly from dietary triglycerides, among them milk and dairy products. A common feature of SCFAs and MCFAs is their carnitine-independent uptake and intramitochondrial activation to acyl-CoA thioesters. Contrary to long-chain fatty acids, the cellular metabolism of SCFAs and MCFAs depends to a lesser extent on fatty acid-binding proteins. SCFAs and MCFAs modulate tissue metabolism of carbohydrates and lipids, as manifested by a mostly inhibitory effect on glycolysis and stimulation of lipogenesis or gluconeogenesis. SCFAs and MCFAs exert no or only weak protonophoric and lytic activities in mitochondria and do not significantly impair the electron transport in the respiratory chain. SCFAs and MCFAs modulate mitochondrial energy production by two mechanisms: they provide reducing equivalents to the respiratory chain and partly decrease efficacy of oxidative ATP synthesis.

Keywords: long-chain fatty acids; mitochondria; short-chain fatty acids.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acyl Coenzyme A / metabolism
  • Adenosine Triphosphate / biosynthesis
  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism*
  • Carnitine / metabolism
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids / biosynthesis
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Triglycerides / metabolism


  • Acyl Coenzyme A
  • Fatty Acids
  • Triglycerides
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Carnitine