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Prog Lipid Res. 2020 Jan;77:101017. doi: 10.1016/j.plipres.2019.101017. Epub 2019 Dec 3.

The highly unnatural fatty acid profile of cells in culture.

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School of Medicine, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia; Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI), Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia. Electronic address:


The fatty acid profile of cells in culture are unlike those of natural cells with twice the monounsaturated (MUFA) and half the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) level (Mol%). This is not due to cell lines primarily being derived from cancers but is due to limited access to lipid and an inability to make PUFA de novo as vertebrate cells. Classic culture methods use media with 10% serum (the only exogenous source of lipid). Fetal bovine serum (FBS), the serum of choice has a low level of lipid and cholesterol compared to other sera and at 10% of media provides 2-3% of the fatty acid and cholesterol, 1% of the PUFA and 0.3% of the essential fatty acid linoleic acid (18:2n-6) available to cells in the body. Since vertebrate cell lines cannot make PUFA they synthesise MUFA, offsetting their PUFA deficit and reducing their fatty acid diversity. Stem and primary cells in culture appear to be similarly affected, with a rapid loss of their natural fatty acid compositions. The unnatural lipid composition of cells in culture has substantial implications for examining natural stems cell in culture, and for investigations of cellular mechanisms using cell lines based on the pervasive influence of fats.


Cancer cell; Cell line; Fatty acid; Peroxidation; Polyunsaturated; Stem cell

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