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FASEB J. 1991 Mar 1;5(3):344-53.

Unique fatty acid composition of normal cartilage: discovery of high levels of n-9 eicosatrienoic acid and low levels of n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry, University of South Carolina, Columbia 29208.


We report here the finding that normal, young cartilages, in distinction from all other tissues examined, have unusually high levels of n-9 eicosatrienoic (20:3 cis-delta 5,8,11) acid and low levels of n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-6 PUFA). This pattern is identical to that found in tissues of animals subjected to prolonged depletion of nutritionally essential n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (EFA). This apparent deficiency is consistently observed in cartilage of all species so far studied (young chicken, fetal calf, newborn pig, rabbit, and human), even though levels of n-6 PUFA in blood and all other tissues is normal. The n-9 20:3 acid is particularly abundant in phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatidylinositol, and the free fatty acid fractions from the young cartilage. Several factors appear to contribute to the reduction in n-6 PUFA and the appearance of high levels of the n-9 20:3 acid in cartilage: 1) limited access to nutritional sources of EFA due to the impermeability and avascularity of cartilage, 2) rapid metabolism of n-6 PUFA to prostanoids by chondrocytes, and 3) a unique fatty acid metabolism by cartilage. Evidence is presented that each of these factors contributes. Previously, EFA deficiency has been shown to greatly suppress the inflammatory response of leukocytes and rejection of tissues transplanted into allogeneic recipients. Because eicosanoids, which are derived from EFA, have been implicated in the inflammatory responses associated with arthritic disease, reduction of n-6 PUFA and accumulation of the n-9 20:3 acid in cartilage may be important for maintaining normal cartilage structure.

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