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• Functional Roles
Fatty acids exist in living organisms mainly as esters of glycerol and triacylglycerols which occur as a major form of energy storage in adipose tissue. Triacylglycerols are found in living organisms as mixtures of acyl groups with different number of carbons and are difficult in most cases to isolate as a single substance. Moreover, fatty acids also exist in living organisms in the form of cholesteryl esters which constitute an essential component of cell membranes where it is required to establish proper membrane permeability and fluidity.
Free fatty acids are known to suppress cell-growth at an order of 0.1mM and above, therefore considerable attention should be paid during their administration to cells.4)
Fatty acid methyl esters are the most widely used fatty acid derivatives in analytical chemistry due to their ease of handling in organic solvents as compared to the highly polar free fatty acids. Moreover their analysis by TLC, gas chromatography (GC) and liquid chromatography (LC) can be improvised by suppressing tailing.
Although fatty acid ethyl esters are rarely used for analysis as compared to the methyl esters, they offer an advantage since their method of preparation from fatty acids involves the use of the less toxic ethanol instead of methanol. For instance, eicosapentaenoic acid which is used as a hyperlipemia medicine is being supplied as ethyl ester.
Ethyl esters of lower to middle-chain fatty acids can be also employed in the fragrance industry. Sodium salts of fatty acids can be obtained as saponification products of lipids and are widely used in daily life as an ingredient of soap owing to their amphiphilicity and surfactant properties.
GC is the most frequently used technique for the analysis of fatty acids. However, their direct analysis appears to be difficult owing to their low volatility in electron impact (EI) ionization mass spectrometry under normal condition. They can however be easily detected by GC-MS method upon derivatization to their methyl esters.
The several methylation methods include the treatment of the free fatty acids with boron trifluoride-ether complex in methanol or with trimethylsilyldiazomethane, etc.
The GC on-column method is a simple method that uses a methanolic solution of trimethylsulfonium hydroxide or 3-(trifluoromethyl)phenyltrimethylsilylammonium hydroxide to analyze the fatty acid component of lipids such as glycerolipids. Please refer to "GC Derivatization Reagents" for protocols.
In general, the solubility of fatty acids in water decreases as the carbon number increases.
Fatty acid esters and glycerolipids are insoluble in water but soluble in ethanol, chloroform and diethyl ether. They can be added to the buffer solution as a dimethyl sulfoxide solution to examine their activity in living organisms. Please take caution that the solution becomes suspended as the concentration level of the dissolved substance increases. It is recommended to define the optimal concentration level and volume of addition in advance. Sodium salts of fatty acid are more water-soluble than the free fatty acids. Long-chain fatty acid salts tend to form micelles.
• Storage Precautions
Unsaturated fatty acids like oleic acid are known to undergo aerial oxidation to produce peroxides. Opened bottles of unsaturated fatty acids and their derivatives should be stored in the refrigerator or frozen with inert gas such as nitrogen or argon. Moreover the tendency to oxidation increases as the degree of unsaturation in the fatty acids increases.
- 1) P. M. Dewick, in Medicinal Natural Products, 3rd ed., John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester, 2009, p. 39.
- 2) Biochemical Nomenclature and Related Documents, 2nd ed., Portland Press, London, 1992, p.180.
- 3) Comprehensive classification system for lipids:E. Fahy, S. Subramaniam, H. A. Brown, C. K. Glass, A. H. Merrill, Jr., R. C. Murphy, C. R. H. Raetz, D. W. Russell, Y. Seyama, W. Shaw, T. Shimizu, F. Spener, G. van Meer, M. S. VanNieuwenhze, S. H. White, J. L. Witztum, E. A. Dennis, J. Lipid Res. 2005, 46, 839.
- 4) C. W Sheu, D. Salomon, J. L. Simmons, T. Sreevalsan, E. Freese, Antimicrob. Agents Chemother. 1975, 7, 349.