Oxidized unsaturated fatty acids induce apoptotic cell death in cultured cells

Mol Med Rep. 2019 Apr;19(4):2767-2773. doi: 10.3892/mmr.2019.9940. Epub 2019 Feb 5.


Polyunsaturated fatty acids are oxidized by non‑enzymatic or enzymatic reactions. The oxidized products are multifunctional. In this study, we investigated how oxidized fatty acids inhibit cell proliferation in cultured cells. We used polyunsaturated and saturated fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA; 22:6), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA; 20:5), linoleic acid (LA; 18:2), and palmitic acid (16:0). Oxidized fatty acids were produced by autoxidation of fatty acids for 2 days in the presence of a gas mixture (20% O2 and 80% N2). We found that oxidized polyunsaturated fatty acids (OxDHA, OxEPA and OxLA) inhibited cell proliferation much more effectively compared with un‑oxidized fatty acids (DHA, EPA and LA, respectively) in THP‑1 (a human monocytic leukemia cell line) and DLD‑1 (a human colorectal cancer cell line) cells. In particular, OxDHA markedly inhibited cell proliferation. DHA has the largest number of double bonds and is most susceptible to oxidation among the fatty acids. OxDHA has the largest number of highly active oxidized products. Therefore, the oxidative levels of fatty acids are associated with the anti‑proliferative activity. Moreover, caspase‑3/7 was activated in the cells treated with OxDHA, but not in those treated with DHA. A pan‑caspase inhibitor (zVAD‑fmk) reduced the cell death induced by OxDHA. These results indicated that oxidized products from polyunsaturated fatty acids induced apoptosis in cultured cells. Collectively, the switch between cell survival and cell death may be regulated by the activity and/or number of oxidized products from polyunsaturated fatty acids.

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis* / drug effects
  • Biomarkers
  • Caspase 3 / metabolism
  • Caspase 7 / metabolism
  • Cell Death / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / adverse effects
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction*


  • Biomarkers
  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspase 7