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J Biol Chem. 2010 Jul 16;285(29):22403-13. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M110.108514. Epub 2010 May 7.

Impaired de novo choline synthesis explains why phosphatidylethanolamine N-methyltransferase-deficient mice are protected from diet-induced obesity.

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Group on the Molecular and Cell Biology of Lipids and Department of Biochemistry, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2S2, Canada.


Phosphatidylcholine (PC) is synthesized from choline via the CDP-choline pathway. Liver cells can also synthesize PC via the sequential methylation of phosphatidylethanolamine, catalyzed by phosphatidylethanolamine N-methyltransferase (PEMT). The current study investigates whether or not hepatic PC biosynthesis is linked to diet-induced obesity. Pemt(+/+) mice fed a high fat diet for 10 weeks increased in body mass by 60% and displayed insulin resistance, whereas Pemt(-/-) mice did not. Compared with Pemt(+/+) mice, Pemt(-/-) mice had increased energy expenditure and maintained normal peripheral insulin sensitivity; however, they developed hepatomegaly and steatosis. In contrast, mice with impaired biosynthesis of PC via the CDP-choline pathway in liver became obese when fed a high fat diet. We, therefore, hypothesized that insufficient choline, rather than decreased hepatic phosphatidylcholine, was responsible for the lack of weight gain in Pemt(-/-) mice despite the presence of 1.3 g of choline/kg high fat diet. Supplementation with an additional 2.7 g of choline (but not betaine)/kg of diet normalized energy metabolism, weight gain, and insulin resistance in high fat diet-fed Pemt(-/-) mice. Furthermore, Pemt(+/+) mice that were fed a choline-deficient diet had increased oxygen consumption, had improved glucose tolerance, and gained less weight. Thus, de novo synthesis of choline via PEMT has a previously unappreciated role in regulating whole body energy metabolism.

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