Fatty Acid Synthesis

Fatty acid synthesis, also known as lipogenesis, is a complex biochemical process by which the body creates fatty acids (lipids) from simpler molecules. Fatty acids are essential components of lipids, which are used for various purposes in the body, including energy storage, cell membrane structure, and the synthesis of signaling molecules.

Saturated Fatty Acid Synthesis Synthesis of saturated fatty acids via fatty acid synthase II in E. coli

Fatty acid synthesis, a fundamental biochemical process within living organisms, plays a pivotal role in maintaining energy balance and sustaining life. This metabolic pathway allows organisms to create fatty acids, which are vital components of lipids and serve various critical functions in cellular structures and processes.

Fatty acids are ubiquitous in biological systems, serving as key building blocks for a wide range of lipids, including triglycerides, phospholipids, and cholesterol esters. These lipids are not only integral components of cell membranes but also crucial energy storage molecules. Furthermore, fatty acids play an indispensable role in the body’s ability to absorb and transport fat-soluble vitamins, such as A, D, E, and K.

To comprehend the importance of fatty acid synthesis, it is essential to recognize its role in cellular function. Fatty acids are not only vital for structural purposes but also serve as a major energy source. The intricate orchestration of enzymatic reactions involved in fatty acid synthesis ensures the production of these essential molecules, allowing organisms to adapt to various metabolic demands.

Fatty Acid Synthesis is crucial for the body as it provides a means to store energy in the form of triglycerides, insulate vital organs, and act as structural components of cell membranes.

The Basics of Fatty Acid Synthesis

Introduction to Fatty Acid Synthesis

Fatty acid synthesis, a fundamental biological process, is the mechanism by which organisms create fatty acids from simpler building blocks. This process is essential for the production of lipids, which serve critical roles in various cellular functions.

The Starting Point: Acetyl-CoA

Fatty acid synthesis begins with a molecule known as acetyl-Coenzyme A (acetyl-CoA). Acetyl-CoA acts as a precursor, providing the carbon atoms necessary for the synthesis of fatty acids. It is generated through various metabolic pathways, primarily in the mitochondria.

The Role of NADPH

Another crucial component in fatty acid synthesis is NADPH (Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide Phosphate), a coenzyme that provides the reducing power required for the synthesis of fatty acids. NADPH acts as an electron donor in the enzymatic reactions that convert acetyl-CoA into fatty acids.

In this section, we have introduced the fundamentals of fatty acid synthesis, including its starting point with acetyl-CoA and the role of NADPH as an essential coenzyme. These are key aspects of understanding how fatty acids are created within biological systems.

Fatty Acid Synthesis primarily occurs in the cytoplasm of liver cells (hepatocytes) and adipose tissue cells (adipocytes).

Fatty Acid Synthesis Pathways

De Novo Lipogenesis: Creating Fatty Acids from Scratch

De novo lipogenesis is the process by which organisms synthesize fatty acids from non-lipid precursors. It is a central pathway in fatty acid synthesis, primarily occurring in the cytoplasm of cells. In this process, acetyl-CoA molecules are joined together to form long chains of fatty acids. This pathway is particularly active in the liver and adipose tissue and plays a crucial role in energy storage.

Elongation and Desaturation: Modifying Fatty Acid Chains

Once fatty acids are synthesized, they can be further modified through elongation and desaturation processes. Elongation involves the addition of carbon atoms to the fatty acid chain, increasing its length. Desaturation, on the other hand, introduces double bonds into the fatty acid chain, influencing its saturation level. These modifications allow for the production of various types of fatty acids with distinct properties.

Regulation of Fatty Acid Synthesis Pathways

The pathways involved in fatty acid synthesis are tightly regulated to maintain proper lipid balance in the body. Enzymes and key regulatory factors ensure that fatty acid synthesis occurs when needed and is inhibited when not required. Hormones such as insulin play a significant role in regulating these pathways, responding to nutritional status and energy demands.

Humans can synthesize certain types of fatty acids through de novo lipogenesis, such as palmitic acid (a 16-carbon saturated fatty acid). However, humans cannot synthesize essential fatty acids like linoleic acid and linolenic acid and must obtain them from the diet.

Fatty Acid Synthesis in the Body

Fatty Acid Synthesis in Adipose Tissue

Adipose tissue, commonly known as body fat, plays a crucial role in the storage of excess energy in the form of fatty acids. Fatty acid synthesis occurs within adipocytes, the specialized cells found in adipose tissue. When the body has an abundance of energy, such as from excess calorie intake, it converts this energy into fatty acids and stores them in adipose tissue for later use.

Fatty Acid Synthesis in the Liver

The liver is another major site of fatty acid synthesis in the body. It serves a critical role in maintaining lipid balance and responding to nutritional status. When glucose levels are high, as is the case after a meal, the liver converts excess glucose into fatty acids through de novo lipogenesis. These fatty acids can be stored for future energy needs or transported to other tissues.

Transport and Storage of Fatty Acids

Fatty acids synthesized in adipose tissue and the liver are transported throughout the body via the bloodstream. They are bound to carrier proteins and circulate as part of lipoproteins. Various tissues can absorb these fatty acids to meet their energy needs or use them to create complex lipids like triglycerides and phospholipids.

Fatty Acid Synthesis is regulated by several enzymes, hormones, and cellular energy status. Insulin promotes lipogenesis, while hormones like glucagon inhibit it. Cellular energy status, as sensed by AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), also plays a role.

Factors Affecting Fatty Acid Synthesis

Dietary Factors: Nutrients and Substrates

Dietary factors play a significant role in influencing fatty acid synthesis. The availability of essential nutrients and substrates is crucial for the process to occur efficiently. For instance, the intake of carbohydrates and excess calories can lead to an increased supply of acetyl-CoA, a key precursor in fatty acid synthesis. Additionally, dietary fats, particularly unsaturated fats, can influence the types of fatty acids synthesized in the body.

Hormonal Regulation: Insulin and Beyond

Hormones, particularly insulin, are central regulators of fatty acid synthesis. After a meal, when blood glucose levels rise, insulin is released to facilitate the uptake and utilization of glucose. It also promotes the conversion of excess glucose into fatty acids for storage. Hormones beyond insulin, such as glucagon, catecholamines, and thyroid hormones, also play roles in modulating fatty acid synthesis in response to changing metabolic demands.

Genetic and Environmental Influences

Genetic factors can influence an individual’s propensity for fatty acid synthesis and metabolism. Variations in genes related to enzymes involved in fatty acid synthesis may impact an individual’s ability to synthesize or utilize fatty acids. Additionally, environmental factors such as physical activity, stress, and exposure to certain substances can affect the regulation of fatty acid synthesis pathways.

The key substrates are acetyl-CoA and malonyl-CoA, which are derived from glucose metabolism.

Health Implications and Applications

Fatty Acid Synthesis and Obesity

Understanding the role of fatty acid synthesis is crucial in addressing health implications, particularly in the context of obesity. Excessive calorie intake, combined with an imbalance in energy expenditure, can lead to the overproduction and storage of fatty acids in adipose tissue. This contributes to obesity, a condition associated with various health risks, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

Fatty Acid Synthesis in Lipid Metabolism

Fatty acid synthesis is closely intertwined with lipid metabolism. Lipids, including triglycerides and cholesterol, are essential components of cell membranes and serve as energy stores. Dysregulation of fatty acid synthesis can lead to imbalances in lipid profiles, impacting overall health. Understanding these metabolic processes is vital to managing lipid-related disorders.

Therapeutic Applications and Research

Advances in our understanding of fatty acid synthesis have opened doors to therapeutic applications. Researchers are exploring the potential of targeting specific enzymes in fatty acid synthesis pathways for the treatment of metabolic disorders, including obesity and type 2 diabetes. Additionally, understanding the role of fatty acids in cellular function has implications for developing therapies that target various diseases, from cancer to neurodegenerative conditions.

Excessive calorie intake, especially in the form of carbohydrates, can lead to an oversupply of acetyl-CoA, promoting Fatty Acid Synthesis and the storage of excess energy as fat, contributing to weight gain and obesity.


In this comprehensive exploration of fatty acid synthesis, we have delved into its fundamental mechanisms, pathways, and regulatory factors. We’ve discussed how fatty acids are created within biological systems, emphasizing their significance in various cellular functions.

Fatty acid synthesis is not just a biochemical process; it is a cornerstone of life. The ability to create and utilize fatty acids is vital for energy balance, cellular structure, and overall health. Scientists are uncovering new insights into the molecular intricacies of fatty acid synthesis, paving the way for innovative therapies and interventions in metabolic disorders, lipid metabolism, and other areas of health.

The citrate shuttle involves the transport of citrate from the mitochondria to the cytoplasm, where it is converted back to acetyl-CoA and oxaloacetate. This shuttle provides a means to transfer acetyl-CoA, a key substrate for Fatty Acid Synthesis, from the mitochondria to the cytoplasm.