Butyric acid from the diet: actions at the level of gene expression

Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 1998 May;38(4):259-97. doi: 10.1080/10408699891274200.


A number of components present in the diet, although nutritionally nonessential, have been discovered to have beneficial effects toward both general health and disease prevention/protection. One such nutrient, butyric acid, can be derived in large quantities from bacterial fementation of dietary fiber in the bowel and is also a component of bovine milk. In gut fermentation, the production of butyric acid defines its delivery point; thus, the synthesis and site of action of butyric acid are in close proximity and have frustrated the investigation of its activities in vivo. Recent research has, however, revealed a number of activities of butyric acid toward isolated cells. In particular, its ability to modify nuclear architecture and induce death by apoptosis in colon cancer cells is arousing great interest. Butyric acid changes the structure of chromatin through its effects on posttranslational modifications, key modifications being acetylation and phosphorylation of the nuclear histones. Butyric acid can also modify the differentiation state of cells, and in the case of cancerous colonic cells overcomes their resistance to normal programmed death. Thus, the activities of this fermentation product of dietary fiber may contribute substantially to the decreased incidence of bowel cancer that has been associated with fiber intake.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Butyrates / chemistry
  • Butyrates / pharmacology*
  • Butyric Acid
  • Chromatin / drug effects*
  • Colon / metabolism
  • Colonic Diseases / drug therapy
  • Dietary Fiber / classification
  • Dietary Fiber / metabolism*
  • Fermentation
  • Gene Expression / drug effects
  • Histamine Antagonists / chemistry
  • Histamine Antagonists / pharmacology*
  • Humans


  • Butyrates
  • Chromatin
  • Dietary Fiber
  • Histamine Antagonists
  • Butyric Acid