Branched Fatty Acid Esters of Hydroxy Fatty Acids (FAHFAs) Protect against Colitis by Regulating Gut Innate and Adaptive Immune Responses

J Biol Chem. 2016 Oct 14;291(42):22207-22217. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M115.703835. Epub 2016 Aug 29.


We recently discovered a structurally novel class of endogenous lipids, branched palmitic acid esters of hydroxy stearic acids (PAHSAs), with beneficial metabolic and anti-inflammatory effects. We tested whether PAHSAs protect against colitis, which is a chronic inflammatory disease driven predominantly by defects in the innate mucosal barrier and adaptive immune system. There is an unmet clinical need for safe and well tolerated oral therapeutics with direct anti-inflammatory effects. Wild-type mice were pretreated orally with vehicle or 5-PAHSA (10 mg/kg) and 9-PAHSA (5 mg/kg) once daily for 3 days, followed by 10 days of either 0% or 2% dextran sulfate sodium water with continued vehicle or PAHSA treatment. The colon was collected for histopathology, gene expression, and flow cytometry. Intestinal crypt fractions were prepared for ex vivo bactericidal assays. Bone marrow-derived dendritic cells pretreated with vehicle or PAHSA and splenic CD4+ T cells from syngeneic mice were co-cultured to assess antigen presentation and T cell activation in response to LPS. PAHSA treatment prevented weight loss, improved colitis scores (stool consistency, hematochezia, and mouse appearance), and augmented intestinal crypt Paneth cell bactericidal potency via a mechanism that may involve GPR120. In vitro, PAHSAs attenuated dendritic cell activation and subsequent T cell proliferation and Th1 polarization. The anti-inflammatory effects of PAHSAs in vivo resulted in reduced colonic T cell activation and pro-inflammatory cytokine and chemokine expression. These anti-inflammatory effects appear to be partially GPR120-dependent. We conclude that PAHSA treatment regulates innate and adaptive immune responses to prevent mucosal damage and protect against colitis. Thus, PAHSAs may be a novel treatment for colitis and related inflammation-driven diseases.

Keywords: Paneth cell; T helper cells; anti-inflammatory lipids; branched fatty acid esters of hydroxy fatty acids; colitis; defensin; immune regulation; innate immunity; lipid; ulcerative colitis.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptive Immunity / immunology*
  • Animals
  • Colitis / chemically induced
  • Colitis / drug therapy*
  • Colitis / immunology
  • Colitis / pathology
  • Dextran Sulfate / adverse effects
  • Dextran Sulfate / pharmacology
  • Fatty Acids / pharmacology*
  • Immunity, Innate / drug effects*
  • Immunity, Mucosal / drug effects*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Paneth Cells / immunology*
  • Paneth Cells / pathology
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / immunology
  • Th1 Cells / immunology*
  • Th1 Cells / pathology


  • FFAR4 protein, mouse
  • Fatty Acids
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • Dextran Sulfate