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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Feb 26;105(8):2830-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0712245105. Epub 2008 Feb 20.

Discovery of a lysophospholipid acyltransferase family essential for membrane asymmetry and diversity.

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Departments of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Metabolome, Faculty of Medicine, University of Tokyo, Hongo 7-3-1, Tokyo 113-0033, Japan.


All organisms consist of cells that are enclosed by a cell membrane containing bipolar lipids and proteins. Glycerophospholipids are important not only as structural and functional components of cellular membrane but also as precursors of various lipid mediators. Polyunsaturated fatty acids comprising arachidonic acid or eicosapentaenoic acid are located at sn-2 position, but not at sn-1 position of glycerophospholipids in an asymmetrical manner. In addition to the asymmetry, the membrane diversity is important for membrane fluidity and curvature. To explain the asymmetrical distribution of fatty acids, the rapid turnover of sn-2 position was proposed in 1958 by Lands [Lands WE (1958) Metabolism of glycerolipides: A comparison of lecithin and triglyceride synthesis. J Biol Chem 231:883-888]. However, the molecular mechanisms and biological significance of the asymmetry remained unknown. Here, we describe a putative enzyme superfamily consisting mainly of three gene families, which catalyzes the transfer of acyl-CoAs to lysophospholipids to produce different classes of phospholipids. Among them, we characterized three important enzymes with different substrate specificities and tissue distributions; one, termed lysophosphatidylcholine acyltransferase-3 (a mammalian homologue of Drosophila nessy critical for embryogenesis), prefers arachidonoyl-CoA, and the other two enzymes incorporate oleoyl-CoAs to lysophosphatidylethanolamine and lysophosphatidylserine. Thus, we propose that the membrane diversity is produced by the concerted and overlapped reactions with multiple enzymes that recognize both the polar head group of glycerophospholipids and various acyl-CoAs. Our findings constitute a critical milestone for our understanding about how membrane diversity and asymmetry are established and their biological significance.

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