Fatty Acids: An Insight into the Pathogenesis of Neurodegenerative Diseases and Therapeutic Potential

Int J Mol Sci. 2022 Feb 25;23(5):2577. doi: 10.3390/ijms23052577.


One of the most common lipids in the human body is palmitic acid (PA), a saturated fatty acid with essential functions in brain cells. PA is used by cells as an energy source, besides being a precursor of signaling molecules and protein tilting across the membrane. Although PA plays physiological functions in the brain, its excessive accumulation leads to detrimental effects on brain cells, causing lipotoxicity. This mechanism involves the activation of toll-like receptors (TLR) and nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells (NF-κB) pathways, with the consequent release of pro-inflammatory cytokines, increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress, and autophagy impairment. Importantly, some of the cellular changes induced by PA lead to an augmented susceptibility to the development of Alzheimer's and Parkinson´s diseases. Considering the complexity of the response to PA and the intrinsic differences of the brain, in this review, we provide an overview of the molecular and cellular effects of PA on different brain cells and their possible relationships with neurodegenerative diseases (NDs). Furthermore, we propose the use of other fatty acids, such as oleic acid or linoleic acid, as potential therapeutic approaches against NDs, as these fatty acids can counteract PA's negative effects on cells.

Keywords: brain cells; fatty acids; inflammation; neurodegenerative diseases; neuroprotection; palmitic acid.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress
  • Fatty Acids* / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases* / etiology
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases* / therapy
  • Oleic Acid / pharmacology
  • Palmitic Acid / pharmacology


  • Fatty Acids
  • Oleic Acid
  • Palmitic Acid