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J Biol Chem. 2003 Sep 12;278(37):35115-26. Epub 2003 Jun 30.

Acyl carriers used as substrates by the desaturases and elongases involved in very long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids biosynthesis reconstituted in yeast.

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  • 1Institut für Allgemeine Botanik, Universität Hamburg, Ohnhorststrasse 18, 22609 Hamburg, Germany.


The health benefits attributed to very long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids and the long term goal to produce them in transgenic oilseed crops have led to the cloning of all the genes coding for the desaturases and elongases involved in their biosynthesis. The encoded activities have been confirmed in vivo by heterologous expression, but very little is known about the actual acyl substrates involved in these pathways. Using a Delta 6-elongase and front-end desaturases from different organisms, we have reconstituted in Saccharomyces cerevisiae the biosynthesis of arachidonic acid from exogenously supplied linoleic acid in order to identify these acyl carriers. Acyl-CoA measurements strongly suggest that the elongation step involved in polyunsaturated fatty acids biosynthesis is taking place within the acyl-CoA pool. In contrast, detailed analyses of lipids revealed that the two desaturation steps (Delta 5 and Delta 6) occur predominantly at the sn-2 position of phosphatidylcholine when using Delta 5- and Delta 6-desaturases from lower plants, fungi, worms, and algae. The specificity of these Delta 6-desaturases for the fatty acid acylated at this particular position as well as a limiting re-equilibration with the acyl-CoA pool result in the accumulation of gamma-linolenic acid at the sn-2 position of phosphatidylcholine and prevent efficient arachidonic acid biosynthesis in yeast. We confirm by using a similar experimental approach that, in contrast, the human Delta 6-desaturase uses linoleoyl-CoA as substrate, which results in high efficiency of the subsequent elongation step. In addition, we report that Delta 12-desaturases have no specificity toward the lipid polar headgroup or the sn-position.

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