Evidence showing that some unsaturated fatty acids, and in particular docosahexaenoic acid, can be powerful inhibitors of mitochondrial β-oxidation is presented. This inhibitory property is, however, also observed with the cis- and trans-isomers of the C18:1(16) acid. Hence it is probably the position of the double bond(s), and not the degree of unsaturation, which confers the inhibitory property. It is suggested that the inhibitory effect is caused by accumulation of 2,4-di- or 2,4,7-tri-enoyl-CoA esters in the mitochondrial matrix. This has previously been shown to occur with these fatty acids, in particular when the supply of NADPH was limiting 2,4-dienoyl-CoA reductase (EC 1.3.1.-) activity [Hiltunen, Osmundsen & Bremer (1983) Biochim. Biophys. Acta 752, 223-232]. Liver mitochondria from streptozotocin-diabetic rats showed an increased ability to β-oxidize 2,4-dienoyl-CoA-requiring acylcarnitines. Docosahexaenoylcarnitine was also found to be less inhibitory at lower concentrations with incubation under coupled conditions. With uncoupling conditions there was little difference between mitochondria from normal and diabetic rats in these respects. This correlates with a 5-fold stimulation of 2,4-dienoyl-CoA reductase activity found in mitochondria from streptozotocin-diabetic rats.

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