The body protects itself against severe inflammation caused by saturated fat

Published on
December 1, 2010

The consumption of saturated fat can cause severe inflammation. The body tries to protect itself against the inflammation by producing a specific protein. Researchers from Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR, report these findings today in the prestigious journal Cell Metabolism.

The body attempts to block the inflammatory response by producing a protein called Angiopoietin-like protein 4, in brief Angptl4. Using mouse models, the researchers show that Angptl4 prevents saturated fat from being taken up into the abdominal cavity, where it would otherwise cause severe inflammation.

Sander Kersten, Associate Professor of Nutrition, Metabolism and Genomics at Wageningen University: “Previous research has shown that eating too much saturated fat promotes inflammation. But how saturated fat acts in our body largely remains unknown. Our research – which has taken 3.5 years  – provides an important contribution to this understanding”.

The researchers used mice that are unable to produce Angptl4 protein. When these mice ate saturated fat they developed severe inflammation in their abdomen, eventually leading to ascites and peritonitis. The researchers discovered that in the absence of Angptl4, special white blood cells in the abdominal cavity began to take up saturated fat. Uptake of saturated fat in these cells gave rise to a powerful inflammatory response. Kersten: “Strikingly, unsaturated fat does not cause inflammation, partly because it strongly promotes the production of Angptl4; as a result, the fat is not taken up.”

Eating less saturated fat

According to the guidelines of the Netherlands Nutrition Centre, we should limit our intake of saturated fat. This is partly because saturated fat raises blood cholesterol levels, which in turn increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition, it is becoming increasingly clear that saturated fat promotes inflammation, which can exacerbate various diseases.


According to Kersten, the research illustrates how fundamental insight into the impact of nutrients in our body can be obtained via the application of nutrigenomics. As part of nutrigenomics research, modern technologies such as micro-arrays are used, along with transgenic animal models.

The research was financed by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research and the Nutrigenomics Consortium.

Article in Cell Metabolism 2010, volume 12, issue 6, 1 December:
  • Authors: Laeticia Lichtenstein, Frits Mattijssen, Nicole J. de Wit, Anastasia Georgiadi, Guido J. Hooiveld, Roelof van der Meer, Yin He, Ling Qi, Anja Köster, Jouke T. Tamsma, Nguan Soon Tan, Michael Müller and Sander Kersten.
  • Title:  Angptl4 protects against severe pro-inflammatory effects of saturated fat by inhibiting fatty acid uptake into mesenteric lymph node macrophages.
  • Running title: Angptl4 blocks saturated fat induced inflammation.