Arachidonic Acid and Other Unsaturated Fatty Acids and Some of Their Metabolites Function as Endogenous Antimicrobial Molecules: A Review

J Adv Res. 2018 Jan 3;11:57-66. doi: 10.1016/j.jare.2018.01.001. eCollection 2018 May.


Our body is endowed with several endogenous anti-microbial compounds such as interferon, cytokines, free radicals, etc. However, little attention has been paid to the possibility that lipids could function as antimicrobial compounds. In this short review, the antimicrobial actions of various polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs, mainly free acids) and their putative mechanisms of action are described. In general, PUFAs kill microbes by their direct action on microbial cell membranes, enhancing generation of free radicals, augmenting the formation of lipid peroxides that are cytotoxic, and by increasing the formation of their bioactive metabolites, such as prostaglandins, lipoxins, resolvins, protectins and maresins that enhance the phagocytic action of leukocytes and macrophages. Higher intakes of α-linolenic and cis-linoleic acids (ALA and LA respectively) and fish (a rich source of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid) might reduce the risk pneumonia. Previously, it was suggested that polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs): linoleic, α-linolenic, γ-linolenic (GLA), dihomo-GLA (DGLA), arachidonic (AA), eicosapentaenoic (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acids (DHA) function as endogenous anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-parasitic, and immunomodulating agents. A variety of bacteria are sensitive to the growth inhibitory actions of LA and ALA in vitro. Hydrolyzed linseed oil can kill methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Both LA and AA have the ability to inactivate herpes, influenza, Sendai, and Sindbis virus within minutes of contact. AA, EPA, and DHA induce death of Plasmodium falciparum both in vitro and in vivo. Prostaglandin E1 (PGE1) and prostaglandin A (PGA), derived from DGLA, AA, and EPA inhibit viral replication and show anti-viral activity. Oral mucosa, epidermal cells, lymphocytes and macrophages contain and release significant amounts of PUFAs on stimulation. PUFAs stimulate NADPH-dependent superoxide production by macrophages, neutrophils and lymphocytes to kill the invading microorganisms. Cytokines induce the release of PUFAs from cell membrane lipid pool, a potential mechanism for their antimicrobial action. AA, EPA, and DHA give rise to lipoxins (LXs), resolvins, protectins, and maresins that limit and resolve inflammation and have antimicrobial actions. Thus, PUFAs and their metabolites have broad antimicrobial actions.

Keywords: Cytokines; Free radicals; Lipoxin A4; Microbicidal; Prostaglandins; Unsaturated fatty acids.

Publication types

  • Review