Epigenetic Effects of Essential Fatty Acids

  • Andy T. Y. Lau
  • Fei-Yuan Yu
  • Yan-Ming XuEmail author
Epigenetics (ATY Lau, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Epigenetics
  2. Topical Collection on Epigenetics


Purpose of Review

In this review, the recent knowledge regarding the epigenetic effects of the four most important dietary fatty acids will be discussed.

Recent Findings

Besides as important sources of fuel for sustaining life, fatty acids are important biomolecules/precursors involved in diverse cellular activities. Insufficient amount of fatty acids present in the body, especially for those essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) which cannot be synthesized (alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid)/are inefficiently synthesized (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid) by the body, could lead to various human diseases and developmental abnormities. The biological roles of these four essential PUFAs have been extensively studied and reviewed throughout the last decades, e.g., biosynthesis of long-chain PUFAs and eicosanoids, anti-inflammation, cardiovascular protection, inhibition of cancer cell proliferation, anti-metastasis, anti-angiogenesis, and regulation of cancer cell death; interestingly, it has been shown more recently that some of the above attributes could be explained by virtue of PUFAs’ influence on gene activities involving DNA methylation/demethylation, histone modifications, and non-coding RNA expression.


Essential PUFAs are important biomolecules that mediate epigenetic control of gene expressions; therefore, understanding more about the epigenetic effects associated with these dietary fatty acids are crucial to finding ways for improving human health.


Epigenetics Polyunsaturated fatty acids Alpha-linolenic acid Eicosapentaenoic acid Docosahexaenoic acid Linoleic acid 



Due to space constraints, it has been necessary to cite recent articles wherever possible; our sincere apologies to the hundreds of authors whose primary contributions are therefore not listed. We would like to thank members of the Lau and Xu laboratory for critical reading of this manuscript.

Funding Information

This work was supported by the grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Nos. 31271445 and 31771582), the Science and Technology Planning Project of Guangdong Province of China (No. 2016A020215144), the Guangdong Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 2017A030313131), the “Thousand, Hundred, and Ten” project of the Department of Education of Guangdong Province of China (No. 124), the Basic and Applied Research Major Projects of Guangdong Province of China (2017KZDXM035), the Colleges and Universities Innovation Project of Guangdong Province of China (Nos. 2016KTSCX041 and 2016KTSCX042), and the “Yang Fan” Project of Guangdong Province of China (Andy T. Y. Lau-2016; Yan-Ming Xu-2015).

Compliance With Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors have declared no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory of Cancer Biology and Epigenetics, Department of Cell Biology and GeneticsShantou University Medical CollegeShantouPeople’s Republic of China

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