T cells are among the most common cell types present in atherosclerotic plaques and are increasingly being recognized as a central mediator in atherosclerosis development and progression. At the same time, triglycerides and fatty acids have re-emerged as crucial risk factors for atherosclerosis. Triglycerides and fatty acids are important components of the milieu to which the T cell is exposed from the circulation to the plaque, and increasing evidence shows that fatty acids influence T cell function. In this Review, we discuss the effects of fatty acids on four components of the T cell response – metabolism, activation, proliferation and polarization – and the influence of these changes on the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. We also discuss how quiescent T cells can undergo a type of metabolic reprogramming induced by exposure to fatty acids in the circulation that influences the subsequent functions of T cells after activation, such as in atherosclerotic plaques..
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