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J Nutr Biochem. 1990 Feb;1(2):68-79.

Dietary fatty acids and membrane protein function.

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Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.


In recent years, there has been growing public awareness of the potential health benefits of dietary fatty acids, and of the distinction between the effects of the omega6 and omega3 polyunsaturated fatty acids that are concentrated in vegetable and fish oils, respectively. A part of the biologic effectiveness of the two families of polyunsaturated fatty acids resides in their relative roles as precursors of the eicosanoids. However, we are also beginning to appreciate that as the major components of the hydrophobic core of the membrane bilayer, they can interact with and directly influence the functioning of select integral membrane proteins. Among the most important of these are the enzymes, receptors, and ion channels that are situated in the plasma membrane of the cell, since they carry out the communication and homeostatic processes that are necessary for normal cell function. This review examines current information regarding the effects of diet-induced changes in plasma membrane fatty acid composition on several specific enzymes (adenylate cyclase, 5'-nucleotidase, Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase) and cell-surface receptors (opiate, adrenergic, insulin). Dietary manipulation studies have demonstrated a sensitivity of each to a fatty acid environment that is variably dependent on the nature of the fatty acid(s) and/or source of the membrane. The molecular mechanisms appear to involve fatty acid-dependent effects on protein conformation, on the "fluidity" and/or thickness of the membrane, or on protein synthesis. Together, the results of these studies reinforce the concept that dietary fats have the potential to regulate physiologic function and to further our understanding of how this occurs at a membrane level.

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