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Genetics. 2003 Feb;163(2):581-9.

Deficiencies in C20 polyunsaturated fatty acids cause behavioral and developmental defects in Caenorhabditis elegans fat-3 mutants.

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  • 1Institute of Biological Chemistry, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington 99164-6340, USA.


Arachidonic acid and other long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are important structural components of membranes and are implicated in diverse signaling pathways. The Delta6 desaturation of linoleic and linolenic acids is the rate-limiting step in the synthesis of these molecules. C. elegans fat-3 mutants lack Delta6 desaturase activity and fail to produce C20 PUFAs. We examined these mutants and found that development and behavior were affected as a consequence of C20 PUFA deficiency. While fat-3 mutants are viable, they grow slowly, display considerably less spontaneous movement, have an altered body shape, and produce fewer progeny than do wild type. In addition, the timing of an ultradian rhythm, the defecation cycle, is lengthened compared to wild type. Since all these defects can be ameliorated by supplementing the nematode diet with gamma-linolenic acid or C20 PUFAs of either the n6 or the n3 series, we can establish a causal link between fatty acid deficiency and phenotype. Similar epidermal tissue defects and slow growth are hallmarks of human fatty acid deficiency.

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