The cell membrane is a primary and fundamental player in most cellular processes, and fatty acids form a major structural component of cell membranes. We recently published a study (Poggi et al., 2015; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26703000) with the aim to compare the membrane fatty acid profiles of different human blood leukocytes and selected cell lines, to identify the effects of in vitro culture on fatty acid profiles, and to test medium supplements for their effect on fatty acid profiles.
The study shows that the various classes of leukocytes have a specific membrane fatty acid profile in vivo that is unlike that of other leukocytes, and which makes the membrane properties of different cell types different and probably better aligned with their function.
However, the specific characteristics of the membrane are completely lost during the in vitro cultivation of primary leukocytes. Furthermore primary leukocytes have very different membrane fatty acid compositions from commonly studied comparator immortalized cell lines. This in vivo versus in vitro membrane dichotomy makes the currently used in vitro experimental models inadequate.
Addition of specific lipid supplements to the culture medium can be used to modify the fatty acid composition of immortalized cell lines to much better resemble that of freshly prepared human blood lymphocytes. Such customised lipid preparations can be used to improve in vitro research with immortalised leukocytic cell lines.
The development of customised lipid supplements can greatly aid the development of innovative experimental models that can mimic specific physiological or pathological conditions, or even the membrane conditions of specific human populations and/or deriving from specific dietary intakes, thus expanding the quality of in vitro studies and guaranteeing the availability of better quality experimental data for scientific research and for the development of new drugs and innovative therapies.
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