The most recent American Dietary Guidelines (2020–2025) recommend shifting dietary fats from solid saturated fats to unsaturated oils. Dietary oils contain different compositions of unsaturated fatty acids (UFA). Oleic acid (OA) and linoleic acid (LA) are the most common UFA in dietary oils. How individual UFA in oils regulate immune cell function and cancer risk remains unclear. Here we demonstrated that high-fat diets (HFD) rich either in OA or LA induced a similar degree of murine obesity, but the LA-rich HFD specifically promoted mammary tumor growth. LA impaired antitumor T-cell responses by promoting naïve T-cell apoptosis and inhibiting TNFα production. While exogenous OA and LA were taken up by T cells with similar efficacy, only LA induced significant mitochondrial reactive oxygen species production and lipid peroxidation. Importantly, naïve T cells predominantly expressed epidermal fatty acid binding protein (E-FABP), which is central in facilitating LA mitochondrial transport and cardiolipin incorporation. Genetic depletion of E-FABP rescued LA-impaired T-cell responses and suppressed LA-rich HFD-associated mammary tumor growth. Collectively, these data suggest that dietary oils high in LA promote mammary tumors by inducing E-FABP–mediated T-cell dysfunction.
These findings suggest that modulation of dietary oil composition and inhibition of E-FABP activity may represent novel strategies to enhance T-cell function in the prevention and treatment of obesity-associated cancers.