A complex formed by human α-lactalbumin (α-LA) and oleic acid (OA), named HAMLET, has been shown to have an apoptotic activity leading to the selective death of tumor cells. In numerous publications it has been reported that in the complex α-LA is monomeric and adopts a partly folded or "molten globule" state, leading to the idea that partly folded proteins can have "beneficial effects". The protein/OA molar ratio initially has been reported to be 1:1, while recent data have indicated that the OA-complex is given by an oligomeric protein capable of binding numerous OA molecules per protein monomer. Proteolytic fragments of α-LA, as well as other proteins unrelated to α-LA, can form OA-complexes with biological activities similar to those of HAMLET, thus indicating that a generic protein can form a cytotoxic complex under suitable experimental conditions. Moreover, even the selective tumoricidal activity of HAMLET-like complexes has been questioned. There is recent evidence that the biological activity of long chain unsaturated fatty acids, including OA, can be ascribed to their effect of perturbing the structure of biological membranes and consequently the function of membrane-bound proteins. In general, it has been observed that the cytotoxic effects exerted by HAMLET-like complexes are similar to those reported for OA alone. Overall, these findings can be interpreted by considering that the protein moiety does not have a toxic effect on its own, but merely acts as a solubilising agent for the inherently toxic fatty acid.