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Prog Lipid Res. 2003 Mar;42(2):115-62.

Biosynthesis of phosphatidylcholine in bacteria.

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Centro de Investigación sobre Fijación de Nitrógeno, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Apdo Postal 565-A, Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico.


Phosphatidylcholine (PC) is the major membrane-forming phospholipid in eukaryotes and can be synthesized by either of two pathways, the methylation pathway or the CDP-choline pathway. Many prokaryotes lack PC, but it can be found in significant amounts in membranes of rather diverse bacteria and based on genomic data, we estimate that more than 10% of all bacteria possess PC. Enzymatic methylation of phosphatidylethanolamine via the methylation pathway was thought to be the only biosynthetic pathway to yield PC in bacteria. However, a choline-dependent pathway for PC biosynthesis has been discovered in Sinorhizobium meliloti. In this pathway, PC synthase, condenses choline directly with CDP-diacylglyceride to form PC in one step. A number of symbiotic (Rhizobium leguminosarum, Mesorhizobium loti) and pathogenic (Agrobacterium tumefaciens, Brucella melitensis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Borrelia burgdorferi and Legionella pneumophila) bacteria seem to possess the PC synthase pathway and we suggest that the respective eukaryotic host functions as the provider of choline for this pathway. Pathogens entering their hosts through epithelia (Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae) require phosphocholine substitutions on their cell surface components that are biosynthetically also derived from choline supplied by the host. However, the incorporation of choline in these latter cases proceeds via choline phosphate and CDP-choline as intermediates. The occurrence of two intermediates in prokaryotes usually found as intermediates in the eukaryotic CDP-choline pathway for PC biosynthesis raises the question whether some bacteria might form PC via a CDP-choline pathway.

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