Membrane fatty acid composition of tissues is related to body mass of mammals

J Membr Biol. 1995 Nov;148(1):27-39. doi: 10.1007/BF00234153.


Phospholipids were extracted from tissues (heart, skeletal muscle, kidney cortex, liver and brain) of mammals representing a 9,000-fold range in body mass (mouse, rat, rabbit, sheep and cattle) and their fatty acid composition was determined. In heart, skeletal muscle and kidney cortex, there were significant allometric decreases in the Unsaturation Index (UI; average number of double bonds per 100 fatty acid molecules) with increasing body mass. There were significant inverse allometric relationships between body mass and the proportion of docosahexaenoic acid (22:6 omega 3) in heart and skeletal muscle. In heart, skeletal muscle and kidney cortex, larger mammals also had shorter fatty acid chains in their phospholipids and a higher proportion of monounsaturates. In liver, smaller mammals had a higher UI than larger mammals (except the rabbit, which had the lowest UI and very low proportions of omega 3 fatty acids). The brain of all mammals maintained a high UI with similar levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially 22:6 omega 3. Our results suggest that in heart, skeletal muscle and kidney cortex the activity of the elongases and desaturases are reduced in large mammals compared to small mammals. The allometric trends in membrane composition may be involved in modifying membrane permeability. It is proposed that the elevated degree of polyunsaturation in the membranes of several tissues from small mammals is related to their higher metabolic activity.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Constitution / physiology*
  • Body Weight
  • Brain Chemistry
  • Cattle
  • Fats, Unsaturated / chemistry
  • Fatty Acids / analysis*
  • Kidney Cortex / chemistry
  • Membrane Lipids / analysis*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred CBA
  • Muscles / chemistry
  • Myocardium / chemistry
  • Phospholipids / analysis
  • Rabbits
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Sheep


  • Fats, Unsaturated
  • Fatty Acids
  • Membrane Lipids
  • Phospholipids