Leukotrienes vs. Prostaglandins

What's the Difference?

Leukotrienes and prostaglandins are both types of lipid mediators that play important roles in the immune response and inflammation processes in the body. However, they differ in their chemical structures and functions. Leukotrienes are derived from arachidonic acid and are primarily involved in promoting inflammation, bronchoconstriction, and mucus production. They are particularly associated with allergic and asthmatic reactions. On the other hand, prostaglandins are also derived from arachidonic acid but have a wider range of functions. They can either promote or inhibit inflammation, depending on the specific prostaglandin and the context in which it is produced. Prostaglandins are involved in various physiological processes, including blood clotting, regulation of blood pressure, and control of smooth muscle contraction.


Chemical StructureDerived from arachidonic acidDerived from arachidonic acid
FunctionMediate inflammation and allergic reactionsRegulate various physiological processes
ProductionSynthesized by leukocytesSynthesized by various cells
ReceptorsAct on leukotriene receptors (BLT1, BLT2, CysLT1, CysLT2)Act on prostaglandin receptors (EP1, EP2, EP3, EP4, DP1, DP2, FP, IP, TP)
EffectsConstrict bronchial smooth muscles, increase vascular permeabilityRegulate blood flow, induce fever, promote inflammation
Role in DiseaseImplicated in asthma, allergic rhinitis, and inflammatory diseasesInvolved in pain, fever, inflammation, and various diseases

Further Detail


Leukotrienes and prostaglandins are both types of lipid mediators that play crucial roles in various physiological and pathological processes within the human body. While they share some similarities, they also have distinct attributes that set them apart. In this article, we will explore the characteristics of leukotrienes and prostaglandins, their functions, and their implications in health and disease.

Structure and Biosynthesis

Leukotrienes are derived from arachidonic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid, through the action of the enzyme 5-lipoxygenase. They are classified as eicosanoids and are characterized by a conjugated triene structure. On the other hand, prostaglandins are also eicosanoids but are derived from arachidonic acid through the action of the enzyme cyclooxygenase. Prostaglandins have a cyclopentane ring structure.

Leukotrienes are further divided into subtypes, including leukotriene A4, B4, C4, D4, and E4, each with distinct functions and receptor affinities. Prostaglandins, on the other hand, are classified into different series (A, B, C, D, E, F, and G) based on the presence of specific functional groups.


Leukotrienes are primarily involved in the regulation of inflammation and immune responses. They act as potent chemoattractants for neutrophils and eosinophils, promoting their migration to sites of inflammation. Leukotrienes also induce bronchoconstriction and mucus secretion, contributing to the pathogenesis of asthma. Additionally, they play a role in vascular permeability and smooth muscle contraction.

Prostaglandins, on the other hand, have diverse functions depending on the specific subtype and tissue context. They are involved in regulating inflammation, pain, and fever. Prostaglandins also play a crucial role in maintaining homeostasis in the gastrointestinal tract, where they regulate gastric acid secretion, mucosal integrity, and blood flow. Furthermore, prostaglandins are involved in the regulation of renal function, blood pressure, and reproductive processes.

Receptors and Signaling

Leukotrienes exert their effects by binding to specific G-protein coupled receptors, including leukotriene receptors 1 (BLT1) and 2 (BLT2), as well as cysteinyl leukotriene receptors (CysLT1 and CysLT2). These receptors are expressed on various cell types, such as leukocytes, smooth muscle cells, and endothelial cells. Activation of leukotriene receptors leads to intracellular signaling cascades, resulting in the desired cellular response.

Prostaglandins, on the other hand, bind to specific G-protein coupled receptors known as prostaglandin receptors. There are multiple subtypes of prostaglandin receptors, including EP1, EP2, EP3, EP4, FP, DP, TP, and IP receptors. Each subtype has distinct signaling properties and is expressed in different tissues. Upon binding to their respective receptors, prostaglandins activate intracellular signaling pathways, leading to various physiological responses.

Role in Disease

Both leukotrienes and prostaglandins have been implicated in various disease processes. Excessive production of leukotrienes is associated with chronic inflammatory conditions, such as asthma, allergic rhinitis, and inflammatory bowel disease. Inhibition of leukotriene synthesis or receptor antagonism has proven to be an effective therapeutic approach in managing these conditions.

Prostaglandins, on the other hand, have been implicated in pain, inflammation, and fever associated with conditions like arthritis. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) work by inhibiting the enzyme cyclooxygenase, thereby reducing prostaglandin synthesis and alleviating symptoms. However, prostaglandins also have important physiological functions, such as maintaining renal blood flow and protecting the gastric mucosa. Therefore, the use of NSAIDs should be carefully balanced to avoid unwanted side effects.


Leukotrienes and prostaglandins are important lipid mediators that play diverse roles in physiological and pathological processes. While leukotrienes primarily regulate inflammation and immune responses, prostaglandins have a broader range of functions, including inflammation, pain, and homeostasis in various organ systems. Understanding the distinct attributes of leukotrienes and prostaglandins is crucial for developing targeted therapeutic interventions and managing diseases effectively.

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