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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2002 Sep 10;1555(1-3):160-5.

Effects of fatty acids on mitochondria: implications for cell death.

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Department of Biomedical Sciences and CNR Institute for Neurosciences, University of Padova, Viale Giuseppe Colombo 3, I-35121 Padua, Italy.


Fatty acids have prominent effects on mitochondrial energy coupling through at least three mechanisms: (i) increase of the proton conductance of the inner mitochondrial membrane; (ii) respiratory inhibition; (iii) opening of the permeability transition pore (PTP). Furthermore, fatty acids physically interact with membranes and possess the potential to alter their permeability; and they are also excellent respiratory substrates that feed electrons into the respiratory chain. Due to the complexity of their actions, the effects of fatty acids on mitochondrial function in situ are difficult to predict. We have investigated the mitochondrial and cellular effects of fatty acids of increasing chain length and degree of unsaturation in relation to their potential to affect mitochondrial function in situ and to cause cell death. We show that saturated fatty acids have little effect on the mitochondrial membrane potential in situ, and display negligible short-term cytotoxicity for Morris Hepatoma 1C1 cells. The presence of double bonds increases both the depolarizing effects and the cytotoxicity, but these effects are offset by the hydrocarbon chain length, so that more unsaturations are required to observe an effect as the hydrocarbon chain length is increased. With few exceptions, depolarization and cell death are due to opening of the PTP rather than to the direct effects of fatty acids on energy coupling.

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