Fatty acids - from energy substrates to key regulators of cell survival, proliferation and effector function

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


  • Danilo Cucchi
  • Dolores Camacho-Muñoz
  • Anna Nicolaou

Colleges, School and Institutes


Recent advances in immunology and cancer research show that fatty acids, their metabolism and their sensing have a crucial role in the biology of many different cell types. Indeed, they are able to affect cellular behaviour with great implications for pathophysiology. Both the catabolic and anabolic pathways of fatty acids present us with a number of enzymes, receptors and agonists/antagonists that are potential therapeutic targets, some of which have already been successfully pursued. Fatty acids can affect the differentiation of immune cells, particularly T cells, as well as their activation and function, with important consequences for the balance between anti- and pro-inflammatory signals in immune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular conditions. In the context of cancer biology, fatty acids mainly provide substrates for energy production, which is of crucial importance to meet the energy demands of these highly proliferating cells. Fatty acids can also be involved in a broader transcriptional programme as they trigger signals necessary for tumorigenesis and can confer to cancer cells the ability to migrate and generate distant metastasis. For these reasons, the study of fatty acids represents a new research direction that can generate detailed insight and provide novel tools for the understanding of immune and cancer cell biology, and, more importantly, support the development of novel, efficient and fine-tuned clinical interventions. Here, we review the recent literature focusing on the involvement of fatty acids in the biology of immune cells, with emphasis on T cells, and cancer cells, from sensing and binding, to metabolism and downstream effects in cell signalling.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-23
Number of pages15
JournalCell Stress - The journal of the European Research Institute for Integrated Cellular Pathology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 10 Dec 2019


  • fatty acids, immune cells, T cells, cancer cells, metastasis, cancer immunology