Synthesis of Fatty Acid

What is Fatty Acid?

  • Fatty acids are organic compounds that are important building blocks of lipids, which are essential for the structure and function of living cells. They consist of a hydrocarbon chain with a carboxyl group (-COOH) at one end.
  • Fatty acids can be categorized into two main types: saturated fatty acids and unsaturated fatty acids. Saturated fatty acids have single bonds between carbon atoms and are typically solid at room temperature. Examples include stearic acid and palmitic acid. Unsaturated fatty acids have one or more double bonds between carbon atoms and are generally liquid at room temperature. Examples include oleic acid and linoleic acid.
  • Fatty acids play vital roles in the body. They are a major energy source and are broken down through a process called beta-oxidation to generate ATP, the energy currency of cells. Fatty acids are also crucial components of cell membranes, where they help maintain fluidity and integrity. Additionally, they serve as precursors for the synthesis of various lipid molecules, such as triglycerides, phospholipids, and cholesterol.
  • Dietary sources of fatty acids include animal fats, vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. It is important to maintain a balanced intake of different types of fatty acids for optimal health. While some fatty acids, like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, are considered essential and beneficial for the body, excessive consumption of saturated and trans fats can have negative health effects and increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Location of Fatty Acid Synthesis

  • Fatty acid synthesis, the process of creating fatty acids, primarily occurs in the cytosol of cells. This intricate process is facilitated by a multienzyme complex known as the fatty acid synthase complex (FAS).
  • The substrates required for synthesizing a single palmitate molecule, which is a 16-carbon fatty acid, include 8 molecules of acetyl CoA, 14 molecules of NADPH, and 7 molecules of ATP. Acetyl CoA serves as the building block for fatty acid synthesis, while NADPH provides the necessary reducing power, and ATP provides the energy required for the various enzymatic reactions involved.
  • The overall process of fatty acid synthesis involves several steps and enzymatic reactions. The FAS complex consists of multiple enzymes that work together sequentially to synthesize fatty acids. The process begins with the condensation of two molecules of acetyl CoA, catalyzed by the enzyme acetyl-CoA carboxylase (ACC), which results in the formation of malonyl-CoA.
  • The subsequent steps involve the repeated addition of two-carbon units from malonyl-CoA to the growing fatty acid chain. Each cycle involves several reactions, including the reduction of the carbonyl group, dehydration, and further reduction, which ultimately extends the fatty acid chain by two carbons. These reactions are facilitated by various enzymes within the FAS complex, such as ketoacyl synthase, ketoacyl reductase, dehydratase, and enoyl reductase.
  • Throughout the process, NADPH serves as the source of reducing equivalents, helping to reduce the intermediates and generate the growing fatty acid chain. The cycle continues until the fatty acid reaches its desired length, which in the case of palmitate is a 16-carbon chain.
  • As the synthesis progresses, water molecules are released as byproducts. In the case of palmitate synthesis, seven molecules of water (H2O) are generated as a result of the condensation and subsequent reactions involving the acetyl-CoA and malonyl-CoA units.
  • Once synthesized, palmitate can undergo further modifications or serve as a precursor for the synthesis of other complex lipids, such as triglycerides, phospholipids, and cholesterol.
  • In summary, fatty acid synthesis occurs in the cytosol and is carried out by the fatty acid synthase complex. It requires acetyl CoA, NADPH, and ATP as substrates and results in the production of palmitate, a 16-carbon fatty acid. This intricate process plays a crucial role in cellular metabolism and the production of lipids necessary for various biological functions.

Fatty Acid Synthesis Pathway

Fatty acid synthesis proceeds through a series of steps, each involving specific enzymatic reactions and the utilization of various substrates. The pathway can be summarized as follows:

Fatty Acid Synthesis Pathway
Fatty Acid Synthesis Pathway
  1. Conversion of Acetyl CoA to Malonyl CoA: The first step involves the conversion of acetyl CoA to malonyl CoA, which is catalyzed by the enzyme acetyl CoA carboxylase (ACC). This reaction requires the presence of biotin, ATP, and carbon dioxide (CO2).
  2. Transfer of Malonyl CoA to Fatty Acid Synthase (FAS): Malonyl CoA, the two-carbon donor, is transferred from the cytosol to the FAS complex, where fatty acid synthesis takes place. FAS acts as a multifunctional enzyme complex, housing all the necessary enzymes for the synthesis of fatty acids.
  3. Condensation, Reduction, and Dehydration Reactions: The FAS complex catalyzes a series of condensation, reduction, and dehydration reactions to elongate the fatty acid chain. The two-carbon unit from malonyl CoA is added to the growing fatty acyl moiety on FAS. This process involves the sequential action of various enzymes within the FAS complex, including ketoacyl synthase, ketoacyl reductase, dehydratase, and enoyl reductase.
  4. Recharging of FAS: Once the two-carbon unit from malonyl CoA is incorporated into the fatty acid chain, the FAS complex is “recharged” with another malonyl moiety. This allows the cycle to continue, leading to the elongation of the fatty acid chain.
  5. Iteration of the Cycle: The cycle of condensation, reduction, and dehydration reactions continues, with each turn resulting in the addition of a two-carbon group to the growing fatty acid chain on FAS. For each cycle, one ATP, one acetyl CoA, and two NADPH molecules are consumed.
  6. Release of Palmitate: After seven turns of the cycle, resulting in the addition of a total of 14 carbons, the FAS complex releases the 16-carbon fatty acid known as palmitate. Palmitate is the end product of the fatty acid synthesis pathway.

It is important to note that palmitate can undergo further modifications, such as desaturation or elongation, to generate a variety of other fatty acids with different carbon chain lengths and degrees of unsaturation.

Fatty Acid Synthesis Pathway

Overall, the fatty acid synthesis pathway involves the coordinated action of enzymes and the utilization of substrates like acetyl CoA, malonyl CoA, ATP, and NADPH to synthesize fatty acids, which serve as essential building blocks for various cellular processes and lipid metabolism.

Important enzymes for Fatty Acid Synthesis

In fatty acid synthesis, several important enzymes play key roles in catalyzing the necessary reactions. Here are the enzymes involved in the process, along with their functions and regulation:

  1. Acetyl CoA carboxylase (ACC): This enzyme is responsible for converting acetyl CoA to malonyl CoA. It requires biotin as a cofactor and utilizes ATP. ACC is a rate-limiting enzyme in fatty acid synthesis and is regulated by various factors. Insulin stimulates fatty acid synthesis by dephosphorylating and activating ACC, while glucagon and epinephrine inhibit fatty acid synthesis by inactivating ACC through phosphorylation.
  2. Malonyl CoA transferase: This enzyme facilitates the transfer of the malonyl CoA molecule from the cytosol to the fatty acid synthase (FAS) complex. Its role is to deliver the two-carbon unit necessary for fatty acid elongation.
  3. Fatty acid synthase (FAS) complex: FAS is a multi-enzyme complex that carries out the series of reactions involved in fatty acid synthesis. It consists of several individual enzymes with distinct functions:a. Ketoacyl synthase: Catalyzes the condensation of malonyl CoA with the growing fatty acyl moiety, forming a beta-ketoacyl intermediate.b. Ketoacyl reductase: Reduces the beta-ketoacyl intermediate to a beta-hydroxyacyl intermediate using NADPH as a cofactor.c. Dehydratase: Catalyzes the dehydration of the beta-hydroxyacyl intermediate, resulting in the formation of a trans double bond within the fatty acyl chain.d. Enoyl reductase: Reduces the trans double bond in the fatty acyl chain to a saturated acyl chain using NADPH.The FAS complex continues these reactions iteratively, elongating the fatty acid chain by two carbons in each cycle.

The regulation of fatty acid synthesis involves the activation and inhibition of specific enzymes:


  • Insulin: Stimulates fatty acid synthesis by activating ACC through dephosphorylation.


  • Glucagon and Epinephrine: Inhibit fatty acid synthesis by inactivating ACC through phosphorylation.

The regulation of these enzymes ensures that fatty acid synthesis is tightly controlled in response to the energy and hormonal status of the organism.


Overall, these enzymes play crucial roles in the fatty acid synthesis pathway, catalyzing the necessary reactions and being subject to regulatory mechanisms that maintain the balance of lipid metabolism in the cell.

Significance of Fatty Acid Synthesis

Fatty acid synthesis holds significant importance as a crucial anabolic pathway in various organisms. Here are some key points highlighting the significance of fatty acid synthesis:

  1. Energy Storage: Fatty acids serve as essential molecules for energy storage. Excess glucose or other energy sources can be converted into fatty acids through fatty acid synthesis and stored in adipose tissue as triglycerides. When energy is needed, these stored fatty acids can be broken down through beta-oxidation to generate ATP, providing a highly efficient energy source.
  2. Structural Component of Membranes: Fatty acids are major components of cell membranes. They form the lipid bilayer, which provides structural integrity and fluidity to cell membranes. Through the process of fatty acid synthesis, cells can maintain the necessary supply of fatty acids for membrane formation and maintenance.
  3. Physiological Functions: Fatty acyl derivatives play diverse physiological roles. They can serve as lipid anchors for post-translational modifications of proteins, such as palmitoylation and myristoylation. These modifications are crucial for protein localization, membrane association, and signaling processes. Fatty acyl derivatives also play roles in intracellular signaling pathways and gene regulation.
  4. Cell Growth and Differentiation: Fatty acid biosynthesis is essential for cell growth, proliferation, and differentiation. Growing cells require an adequate supply of fatty acids to synthesize new membranes and support the expansion of cellular structures during growth. In specialized cells, such as adipocytes and mammary epithelial cells, fatty acid synthesis is particularly important for their specific functions and differentiation processes.
  5. Homeostasis and Metabolic Regulation: Fatty acid synthesis is tightly regulated to maintain metabolic homeostasis. Various factors, including hormonal signals and nutrient availability, modulate the activity of key enzymes involved in fatty acid synthesis. This regulation ensures that fatty acid synthesis occurs in response to the energy and metabolic needs of the organism, preventing excessive or insufficient synthesis.

In summary, fatty acid synthesis is a vital metabolic pathway that contributes to energy storage, membrane structure, post-translational modifications, and cellular functions. It plays crucial roles in cell growth, differentiation, and homeostasis, making it an indispensable process for the overall functioning and health of organisms.


What is fatty acid synthesis?

Fatty acid synthesis is a metabolic pathway by which cells produce fatty acids from simpler building blocks, primarily acetyl CoA, to fulfill various biological functions.


Where does fatty acid synthesis occur in cells?

Fatty acid synthesis takes place in the cytosol of cells.

What is the primary enzyme involved in fatty acid synthesis?

The key enzyme in fatty acid synthesis is fatty acid synthase (FAS) complex, which consists of multiple enzymes working together.

What are the substrates required for fatty acid synthesis?

The substrates needed for fatty acid synthesis include acetyl CoA, malonyl CoA, ATP, and NADPH.

What is the role of acetyl CoA carboxylase in fatty acid synthesis?

Acetyl CoA carboxylase converts acetyl CoA to malonyl CoA, which is an essential step in the initiation of fatty acid synthesis.

How is the growing fatty acid chain elongated during synthesis?

The FAS complex adds two-carbon units from malonyl CoA to the carboxyl end of the growing fatty acyl chain, extending its length.

What is the significance of NADPH in fatty acid synthesis?

NADPH provides the reducing power necessary for the enzymatic reactions involved in fatty acid synthesis, such as the reduction of carbonyl groups.

How is fatty acid synthesis regulated?

Fatty acid synthesis is regulated by hormonal signals and nutritional factors. Insulin activates, while glucagon and epinephrine inhibit, key enzymes like acetyl CoA carboxylase.

What are the products of fatty acid synthesis?

The main product of fatty acid synthesis is palmitate, a 16-carbon saturated fatty acid. This palmitate can undergo further modifications or serve as a precursor for other complex lipids.

Why is fatty acid synthesis important for the body?

Fatty acid synthesis is crucial for energy storage, membrane structure, physiological functions, cell growth, differentiation, and metabolic regulation in the body.

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