Molecular biology of the cell

Inhibition of fatty acid oxidation enhances oxidative protein folding and protects hepatocytes from endoplasmic reticulum stress.

PMID 22262455


The unfolded protein response (UPR) signals protein misfolding in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) to effect gene expression changes and restore ER homeostasis. Although many UPR-regulated genes encode ER protein processing factors, others, such as those encoding lipid catabolism enzymes, seem unrelated to ER function. It is not known whether UPR-mediated inhibition of fatty acid oxidation influences ER function or, if so, by what mechanism. Here we demonstrate that pharmacological or genetic inhibition of fatty acid oxidation renders liver cells partially resistant to ER stress-induced UPR activation both in vitro and in vivo. Reduced stress sensitivity appeared to be a consequence of increased cellular redox potential as judged by an elevated ratio of oxidized to reduced glutathione and enhanced oxidative folding in the ER. Accordingly, the ER folding benefit of inhibiting fatty acid (FA) oxidation could be phenocopied by manipulating glutathione recycling during ER stress. Conversely, preventing cellular hyperoxidation with N-acetyl cysteine partially negated the stress resistance provided by blocking FA oxidation. Our results suggest that ER stress can be ameliorated through alteration of the oxidizing environment within the ER lumen, and they provide a potential logic for the transient regulation of metabolic pathways by the UPR during stress.