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Arch Biochem Biophys. 2012 Jan 15;517(2):83-97. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2011 Nov 10.

At the membrane frontier: a prospectus on the remarkable evolutionary conservation of polyprenols and polyprenyl-phosphates.

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Department of Biology and Department of Chemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.


Long-chain polyprenols and polyprenyl-phosphates are ubiquitous and essential components of cellular membranes throughout all domains of life. Polyprenyl-phosphates, which include undecaprenyl-phosphate in bacteria and the dolichyl-phosphates in archaea and eukaryotes, serve as specific membrane-bound carriers in glycan biosynthetic pathways responsible for the production of cellular structures such as N-linked protein glycans and bacterial peptidoglycan. Polyprenyl-phosphates are the only form of polyprenols with a biochemically-defined role; however, unmodified or esterified polyprenols often comprise significant percentages of the cellular polyprenol pool. The strong evolutionary conservation of unmodified polyprenols as membrane constituents and polyprenyl-phosphates as preferred glycan carriers in biosynthetic pathways is poorly understood. This review surveys the available research to explore why unmodified polyprenols have been conserved in evolution and why polyprenyl-phosphates are universally and specifically utilized for membrane-bound glycan assembly.

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