Structure-toxicity relationships of saturated and unsaturated free fatty acids for elucidating the lipotoxic effects in human EndoC-βH1 beta-cells

Biochim Biophys Acta Mol Basis Dis. 2019 Nov 1;1865(11):165525. doi: 10.1016/j.bbadis.2019.08.001. Epub 2019 Aug 6.


Lipotoxicity has been considered a major cause for beta-cell dysfunction in type 2 diabetes mellitus. However, the underlying mechanisms are still unclear. To achieve a better understanding of the toxicity a wide range of structurally different free fatty acids (FFAs) has been analyzed in human EndoC-βH1 beta-cells. Exposure of human EndoC-βH1 beta-cells to physiological saturated and monounsaturated long-chain FFAs induced apoptosis. Particularly noteworthy was that the toxicity increased more rapidly with increasing chain length of saturated than of unsaturated FFAs. The highest toxicity was observed in the presence of very long-chain FFAs (C20-C22), whereas polyunsaturated FFAs were not toxic. Long-chain FFAs increased peroxisomal hydrogen peroxide generation slightly, while very long-chain FFAs increased hydrogen peroxide generation more potently in both peroxisomes and mitochondria. The greater toxicity of very long-chain FFAs was accompanied by hydroxyl radical formation, along with cardiolipin peroxidation and ATP depletion. Intriguingly, only saturated very long-chain FFAs activated ER stress. On the other hand saturated very long-chain FFAs did not induce lipid droplet formation in contrast to long-chain FFAs and unsaturated very long-chain FFAs. The present data highlight the importance of structure-activity relationship analyses for the understanding of the mechanisms of lipotoxicity. Chain length and degree of saturation of FFAs are crucial factors for the toxicity of FFAs, with peroxisomal, mitochondrial, and ER stress representing the major pathogenic factors for induction of lipotoxicity. The results might provide a guide for the composition of a healthy beta-cell protective diet.

Keywords: Apoptosis; ER stress; Fatty acid; Human pancreatic beta cell; Lipotoxicity; Type 2 diabetes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis*
  • Cell Line
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress
  • Fatty Acids / chemistry
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / chemistry
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / cytology*
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / metabolism


  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated