Eicosanoids: Definition, Function, Types & Effects Video

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  • 0:02 Eicosanoids
  • 1:04 Effects
  • 2:33 Types & Functions
  • 5:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Eicosanoids are often thought of as local hormones. They have a variety of effects on your body. In this lesson, you will learn about the functions of three important eicosanoids: prostaglandins, thromboxanes, and leukotrienes.


When you first started learning about how the human body works, you likely learned about hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers that regulate activities within your body. The thing about hormones is that they don't mind commuting to work. Many are produced in one area of the body, and then travel through your bloodstream to affect tissues located far away.

Eicosanoids work like hormones, but they do not like to travel. Eicosanoids go by the nickname 'local hormones' because they act on cells close to their site of production. Eicosanoids also rapidly break down, so they are not able to travel very far. There are different types of eicosanoids, but the three most researched types are prostaglandins, thromboxanes, and leukotrienes. We will explore the functions of each of these in a moment, but first, let's learn a few general facts about eicosanoids and the effects they have on your body.


Most eicosanoids are produced from arachidonic acid. You might recall that arachidonic acid is a polyunsaturated fatty acid and specifically a type of omega-6 fatty acid. You obtain this fatty acid through your diet, mainly from animal fats. So, chicken, eggs, hamburgers, and hot dogs are examples of foods you might eat that provide arachidonic acid.

The eicosanoids derived from these fatty acids have a variety of effects on your body. For example, they play a role in inflammation, fever promotion, blood pressure regulation, and blood clotting. They also influence the immune response and certain respiratory and reproductive processes. As you can see, this is a long and varied list. But, if you look closely at the list, you notice that eicosanoids bring about many of the unpleasant things that drive us to the doctor's office, like fever and painful inflammation. These symptoms are why eicosanoids are such a focus of medical research.

In fact, there is a common class of drugs that inhibit the formation of different types of eicosanoids. I would go as far as to guess that you likely have some of these drugs in your bathroom medicine cabinet. Can you guess what I'm talking about? I'll let you know in a moment, but first, let me discuss the different types of eicosanoids.

Types & Functions

At the beginning of this lesson, I mentioned three types of eicosanoids. One of those was prostaglandins. Not all prostaglandin receptors are the same. This makes prostaglandins perform different and sometimes opposite effects on their target cells. For example, prostaglandins can dilate or constrict blood vessels, which brings about a change in blood pressure. They can also dilate or constrict the bronchi of the lungs. We also see that prostaglandins can regulate inflammation, cause pain and induce fever. If you're a mother or you have an interest in obstetrics, then you might already know that prostaglandins contract smooth muscles, including those of the uterus during labor.

Thromboxanes are another type of eicosanoids, but it might be more correct to think of them as modified prostaglandins due to their structure. When thromboxanes are produced, they constrict blood vessels and cause platelets to aggregate. As you might have noticed, these functions have to do with the blood clotting process. When you cut yourself, the body controls bleeding by constricting blood vessels and gathering platelets to plug up the leak. It will be easy to recall what thromboxanes do if you link them to the term we use to describe the formation of a blood clot, which is thrombosis. So, thromboxanes help out with thrombosis.

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