The facile abstraction of bis-allylic hydrogens from polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) is the hallmark chemistry responsible for initiation and propagation of autoxidation reactions. The products of these autoxidation reactions can form cross-links to other membrane components and damage proteins and nucleic acids.

We report that PUFAs deuterated at bis-allylic sites are much more resistant to autoxidation reactions, because of the isotope effect. This is shown using coenzyme Q-deficient Saccharomyces cerevisiae coq mutants with defects in the biosynthesis of coenzyme Q (Q). Q functions in respiratory energy metabolism and also functions as a lipid-soluble antioxidant.

Yeast coq mutants incubated in the presence of the PUFA α-linolenic or linoleic acid exhibit 99% loss of colony formation after 4h, demonstrating a profound loss of viability. In contrast, coq mutants treated with monounsaturated oleic acid or with one of the deuterated PUFAs, 11,11-D(2)-linoleic or 11,11,14,14-D(4)-α-linolenic acid, retain viability similar to wild-type yeast. Deuterated PUFAs also confer protection to wild-type yeast subjected to heat stress.

These results indicate that isotope-reinforced PUFAs are stabilized compared to standard PUFAs, and they protect coq mutants and wild-type yeast cells against the toxic effects of lipid autoxidation products. These findings suggest new approaches to controlling ROS-inflicted cellular damage and oxidative stress.