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J Lipid Res. 2006 Aug;47(8):1812-22. Epub 2006 May 10.

Low liver conversion rate of alpha-linolenic to docosahexaenoic acid in awake rats on a high-docosahexaenoate-containing diet.

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  • 1Brain Physiology and Metabolism Section, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


We quantified the rates of incorporation of alpha-linolenic acid (alpha-LNA; 18:3n-3) into "stable" lipids (triacylglycerol, phospholipid, cholesteryl ester) and the rate of conversion of alpha-LNA to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA; 22: 6n-3) in the liver of awake male rats on a high-DHA-containing diet after a 5-min intravenous infusion of [1-(14)C]alpha-LNA. At 5 min, 72.7% of liver radioactivity (excluding unesterified fatty acid radioactivity) was in stable lipids, with the remainder in the aqueous compartment. Using our measured specific activity of liver alpha-LNA-CoA, in the form of the dilution coefficient lambda(alpha-LNA-CoA), we calculated incorporation rates of unesterified alpha-LNA into liver triacylglycerol, phospholipid, and cholesteryl ester as 2,401, 749, and 9.6 nmol/s/g x 10(-4), respectively, corresponding to turnover rates of 3.2, 8.7, and 2.9%/min and half-lives of 8-24 min. A lower limit for the DHA synthesis rate from alpha-LNA equaled 15.8 nmol/s/g x 10(-4) (0.5% of the net in corporation rate). Thus, in rats on a high-DHA-containing diet, rates of beta-oxidation and esterification of alpha-LNA into stable liver lipids are high, whereas its conversion to DHA is comparatively low and insufficient to supply significant DHA to the brain. High incorporation and turnover rates likely reflect a high secretion rate by liver of stable lipids within very low density lipoproteins.

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