From the unfolded protein response to metabolic diseases - lipids under the spotlight

J Cell Sci. 2018 Feb 8;131(3):jcs199307. doi: 10.1242/jcs.199307.


The unfolded protein response (UPR) is classically viewed as a stress response pathway to maintain protein homeostasis at the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). However, it has recently emerged that the UPR can be directly activated by lipid perturbation, independently of misfolded proteins. Comprising primarily phospholipids, sphingolipids and sterols, individual membranes can contain hundreds of distinct lipids. Even with such complexity, lipid distribution in a cell is tightly regulated by mechanisms that remain incompletely understood. It is therefore unsurprising that lipid dysregulation can be a key factor in disease development. Recent advances in analysis of lipids and their regulators have revealed remarkable mechanisms and connections to other cellular pathways including the UPR. In this Review, we summarize the current understanding in UPR transducers functioning as lipid sensors and the interplay between lipid metabolism and ER homeostasis in the context of metabolic diseases. We attempt to provide a framework consisting of a few key principles to integrate the different lines of evidence and explain this rather complicated mechanism.

Keywords: Endoplasmic reticulum stress; Lipid perturbation; Metabolic diseases; Phospholipids; Unfolded protein response.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism*
  • Lipids / chemistry
  • Membrane Fluidity
  • Metabolic Diseases / metabolism*
  • Unfolded Protein Response*


  • Lipids