PURPOSE OF REVIEW: Lipid rafts are potentially modifiable by diet, particularly (but not exclusively) by dietary fatty acids. This review examines the potential for dietary modification of raft structure and function in the immune system, brain and retinal tissue, the gut, and in cancer cells.

RECENT FINDINGS: In-vitro and ex-vivo studies suggest that dietary n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) may exert immunosuppressive and anticancer effects through changes in lipid raft organization. In addition, gangliosides and cholesterol may modulate lipid raft organization in a number of tissues, and recent work has highlighted sphingolipids in membrane microdomains as potential targets for inhibition of tumor growth. The roles of fatty acids and gangliosides, especially in relation to lipid rafts, in cognitive development, age-related cognitive decline, psychiatric disorders, and Alzheimer's disease are poorly understood and require further investigation. The roles of lipid rafts in cancer, in microbial pathogenesis, and in insulin resistance are starting to emerge, and indicate compelling evidence for the growing importance of membrane microdomains in health and disease.

SUMMARY: In-vitro and animal studies show that n-3 PUFAs, cholesterol, and gangliosides modulate the structure and composition of lipid rafts, potentially influencing a wide range of biological processes, including immune function, neuronal signaling, cancer cell growth, entry of pathogens through the gut barrier, and insulin resistance in metabolic disorders. The physiological, clinical, and nutritional relevance of these observations remains to be determined.