The literature on non-esterified fatty acid (NEFA) concentrations in blood cell membranes from patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) is scarce and reports on concentrations in brain tissue from these patients are inconsistent. NEFAs are needed for several biological functions, for example, as precursors for inflammatory eicosanoid synthesis. The objective of this study was therefore to compare NEFA concentrations in blood cell membranes from patients with that of healthy control subjects, and to correlate possible changes with disease outcome. NEFA C18:2n-6 (9,12-octadecadienoic acid) was decreased in peripheral blood mononuclear cell membranes from patients, median (quartile range): patients: 0.05 (0.02) and controls: 0.07 (0.14) µg/mg protein, p = 0.007. C18:2n-6 also showed a weaker relationship with other fatty acids: with C16:0: patients: R = 0.40, p = 0.04; controls: R = 0.82, p = 0.000001. Saturated and MUFA showed positive correlations with the Bowel and bladder Functional System Scores (FSS). In contrast, in red blood cell membranes C18:2n-6 and C22:0 (docosanoic acid) showed inverse correlations with the Sensory and Brainstem FSS. The decrease in NEFA C18:2n-6 resulted in metabolic abnormalities between itself and saturated and monounsaturated NEFAs. Altered fatty acid composition in immune cell membranes would influence immune cell functions, and could possibly have contributed to the positive correlations between these fatty acids and disease outcome.
Practical applications: Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease which presents with inflammation of the central nervous system. The cause of the disease is unknown and treatments such as anti-inflammatory, immunosuppressive medications, and fatty acids supplements are for the alleviation of symptoms only. The results from this study however, showed an altered relationship between polyunsaturated and saturated as well as monounsaturated non-esterified fatty acids in immune cells, which could have contributed to the inflammatory/infectious condition in these patients. The results from this study and further studies could possibly result in formulation of fatty acid supplements at correct doses or ratios for MS patients.