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J Biochem. 2012 Nov;152(5):387-95. doi: 10.1093/jb/mvs105. Epub 2012 Sep 14.

Very long-chain fatty acids: elongation, physiology and related disorders.

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Laboratory of Biochemistry, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Hokkaido University, Kita 12-jo, Nishi 6-chome, Sapporo 060-0812, Japan.


Very long-chain fatty acids (VLCFAs) are fatty acids (FAs) with a chain-length of ≥22 carbons. Mammals have a variety of VLCFAs differing in chain-length and the number of double bonds. Each VLCFA exhibits certain functions, for example in skin barrier formation, liver homeostasis, myelin maintenance, spermatogenesis, retinal function and anti-inflammation. These functions are elicited not by free VLCFAs themselves, but through their influences as components of membrane lipids (sphingolipids and glycerophospholipids) or precursors of inflammation-resolving lipid mediators. VLCFAs are synthesized by endoplasmic reticulum membrane-embedded enzymes through a four-step cycle. The most important enzymes determining the tissue distribution of VLCFAs are FA elongases, which catalyze the first, rate-limiting step of the FA elongation cycle. Mammals have seven elongases (ELOVL1-7), each exhibiting a characteristic substrate specificity. Several inherited disorders are caused by mutations in genes involved in VLCFA synthesis or degradation. In this review, I describe the molecular mechanism of FA elongation and the responsible enzymes in mammals and yeast, as well as VLCFA-related disorders in human.

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