Molecular Cell Biology
Wiley InterScience Backfile Collection 1832-2000
Chemistry and Pharmacology
Phytanic acid (3,7,11,15-tetramethylhexadecanoic acid), an unusual branched chain fatty acid thought to disrupt the hydrophobic regions of membranes, can be incorporated into the lipids of growing Neurospora cultures. The phytanic acid must be supplied in a water soluble form, esterified to a Tween detergent (Tween-Phytanic). This fatty acid and its oxidation product, pristanic acid, were found in both the phospholipid and neutral lipid fractions of Neurospora. In phospholipids of the wild-type strain, phytanic acid was present to the extent of 4 to 5 moles percent of the fatty acids and pristanic acid, about 41 moles percent. The neutral lipids contained 42 and 4 moles percent of phytanic and pristanic acids respectively. By employing a fatty acid-requiring mutant strain (cel-), the phytanic acid level was raised to a maximum of 16 moles percent in the phospholipids and to 63 moles percent in the neutral lipids. Under this condition, the level of pristanic acid was reduced to about 6 moles percent in phospholipids and 1 mole percent in the neutral lipids. The phytanic acid levels could not be further elevated by increased supplementation with phytanic acid or by a change in the growth temperature. In strains with a high phytanic acid content, the complete fatty acid distribution of the phospholipids and neutral lipids was determined. In the neutral lipids, phytanic acid appeared to replace the 18 carbon fatty acids, particularly linoleic acid.The presence of phytanic acid in the phospholipids was confirmed by mass spectrometry, and by the isolation of a phospholipid fraction containing this fatty acid via silicic acid column chromatography. Most of the phytanic acid in phospholipids appeared to be in phosphatidylethanolamine, and 2 lines of evidence suggest that it was esterified to both positions of this molecule. In the fatty acid-requiring mutant strain (cel-), the replacement by phytanic acid of 10 to 15% of the fatty acids in the phospholipid produced an aberrant morphological change in the growth pattern of Neurospora and caused this organism to be osmotically more fragile than the wild-type strain. The lack of noticeable effect of the high levels of pristanic acid in the phospholipids suggests that it is not just the presence of the methyl groups in a branched chain fatty acid which leads to the altered membrane function in this organism.
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