Results from our previous studies demonstrated that activation of Toll-like receptor 4 (Tlr4), the lipopolysaccharide (LPS) receptor, is sufficient to induce nuclear factor κB activation and expression of inducible cyclooxygenase (COX-2) in macrophages. Saturated fatty acids (SFAs) acylated in lipid A moiety of LPS are essential for biological activities of LPS. Thus, we determined whether these fatty acids modulate LPS-induced signaling pathways and COX-2 expression in monocyte/macrophage cells (RAW 264.7). Results show that SFAs, but not unsaturated fatty acids (UFAs), induce nuclear factor κB activation and expression of COX-2 and other inflammatory markers. This induction is inhibited by a dominant-negative Tlr4. UFAs inhibit COX-2 expression induced by SFAs, constitutively active Tlr4, or LPS. However, UFAs fail to inhibit COX-2 expression induced by activation of signaling components downstream of Tlr4. Together, these results suggest that both SFA-induced COX-2 expression and its inhibition by UFAs are mediated through a common signaling pathway derived from Tlr4. These results represent a novel mechanism by which fatty acids modulate signaling pathways and target gene expression. Furthermore, these results suggest a possibility that propensity of monocyte/macrophage activation is modulated through Tlr4 by different types of free fatty acids, which in turn can be altered by kinds of dietary fat consumed.
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