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BMC Biochem. 2005 Mar 24;6:5.

A simplified method for analysis of polyunsaturated fatty acids.

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Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02114, USA.



Analysis of fatty acid composition of biological materials is a common task in lipid research. Conventionally, preparation of samples for fatty acid analysis by gas chromatography involves two separate procedures: lipid extraction and methylation. This conventional method is complicated, tedious and time consuming. Development of a rapid and simple method for lipid analysis is warranted.


We simplified the conventional method by combining the extraction and methylation into a single step (omitting the procedure of prior extraction). Various biological samples including cultured cells, animal tissues and human specimens have been tested using the new method. Statistical analysis indicates that the recovery of long chain fatty acids from tissue samples by the simplified method is significantly higher than that by the traditional method, but there is no difference in relative fatty acid composition between the two methods. This simplified method can significantly save time and materials, and reduce the potentials of sample loss and contamination.


The lipid extraction procedure prior to methylation employed conventionally in lipid analysis can be omitted without affecting the recovery of long chain (>or= 18 C) fatty acids and their composition. The simplified method is rapid, easy-to-use, suitable for analysis of total long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid contents (e.g. n-6 and n-3 fatty acids) in various biological samples, especially when the number of samples to be analyzed is large and/or the specimen size is small.

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