A research team has visualized the dynamics and distribution of fatty acids within living cells to understand why an excess of saturated fats are harmful to cells and lead to various lipid-related ailments.
The research findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, have also shown that instead of refined oil, which is full of saturated fats, olive oil and fish can be used. They are low in fatty acids, which are saturated, and also contain many good unsaturated fats that have an important part in saving cells from harm.
"Visualising how fatty acids are contributing to lipid metabolic disease gives us the direct physical information we need to begin looking for effective ways to treat them.” said study author Wei Min, from New York’s Columbia University.
Min added that, for instance, it can help to find a means to stop the accumulation of toxic lipid.
A New Technique To Observe Absorption Of Fatty Acids Into Living Cells
The research team worked on a newly developed microscopy procedure that facilitated them to directly track fatty acids’ absorption into living cells. The new device switched fatty acids’ hydrogen atoms with their deuterium isotope, but without altering their physicochemical behavior and properties like conventional strategies do.
The replacement allowed the researchers to observe all the molecules generated from fatty acids within living cells with stimulated Raman scattering microscopy, an advanced type of imaging technique.
Saturated Fats Harden Membranes
The study showed that the cellular procedure of cell membrane production from saturated fatty acids leads to hardened membrane patches with frozen molecules. Under healthy circumstances, there should be a membrane that is flexible and fluidic molecules.
Long, straight, stiff arrays of saturated fatty acids make the lipid molecules rigid and separate them from the cell’s membrane. The rigid lipid molecules then collect in a solid-like form in tight clusters, which do not have much motion.
The researchers also saw that an increase in the number of saturated fatty acids entering a cell expanded the clusters in size, resulting in an increased membrane elasticity and eventually damaging the whole cell.
The mechanism may also help researchers to get a better understanding of the benefits of unsaturated fatty acids as well as the way they can have a protective part in certain lipid disorders.