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Eukaryot Cell. 2011 Mar;10(3):423-34. doi: 10.1128/EC.00259-10. Epub 2011 Jan 21.

A novel sterol desaturase-like protein promoting dealkylation of phytosterols in Tetrahymena thermophila.

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Cátedra de Biotecnología y Microbiología Industrial, Facultad de Farmacia y Bioquímica, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina.


The gene TTHERM_00438800 (DES24) from the ciliate Tetrahymena thermophila encodes a protein with three conserved histidine clusters, typical of the fatty acid hydroxylase superfamily. Despite its high similarity to sterol desaturase-like enzymes, the phylogenetic analysis groups Des24p in a separate cluster more related to bacterial than to eukaryotic proteins, suggesting a possible horizontal gene transfer event. A somatic knockout of DES24 revealed that the gene encodes a protein, Des24p, which is involved in the dealkylation of phytosterols. Knocked-out mutants were unable to eliminate the C-24 ethyl group from C(29) sterols, whereas the ability to introduce other modifications, such as desaturations at positions C-5(6), C-7(8), and C-22(23), were not altered. Although C-24 dealkylations have been described in other organisms, such as insects, neither the enzymes nor the corresponding genes have been identified to date. Therefore, this is the first identification of a gene involved in sterol dealkylation. Moreover, the knockout mutant and wild-type strain differed significantly in growth and morphology only when cultivated with C(29) sterols; under this culture condition, a change from the typical pear-like shape to a round shape and an alteration in the regulation of tetrahymanol biosynthesis were observed. Sterol analysis upon culture with various substrates and inhibitors indicate that the removal of the C-24 ethyl group in Tetrahymena may proceed by a mechanism different from the one currently known.

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