Nervonic acid and its sphingolipids: Biological functions and potential food applications

Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2023 Apr 28:1-20. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2023.2203753. Online ahead of print.


Nervonic acid, a 24-carbon fatty acid with only one double bond at the 9th carbon (C24:1n-9), is abundant in the human brain, liver, and kidney. It not only functions in free form but also serves as a critical component of sphingolipids which participate in many biological processes such as cell membrane formation, apoptosis, and neurotransmission. Recent studies show that nervonic acid supplementation is not only beneficial to human health but also can improve the many medical conditions such as neurological diseases, cancers, diabetes, obesity, and their complications. Nervonic acid and its sphingomyelins serve as a special material for myelination in infants and remyelination patients with multiple sclerosis. Besides, the administration of nervonic acid is reported to reduce motor disorder in mice with Parkinson's disease and limit weight gain. Perturbations of nervonic acid and its sphingolipids might lead to the pathogenesis of many diseases and understanding these mechanisms is critical for investigating potential therapeutic approaches for such diseases. However, available studies about this aspect are limited. In this review, relevant findings about functional mechanisms of nervonic acid have been comprehensively and systematically described, focusing on four interconnected functions: cellular structure, signaling, anti-inflammation, lipid mobilization, and their related diseases.

Keywords: Signal transduction; anti-inflammation; lipid mobilization; neurological disease; very-long-chain fatty acid.