Fatty acid metabolism in HepG2 cells: Limitations in the accumulation of docosahexaenoic acid in cell membranes

Author: Roxanne Portolesi

Portolesi, Roxanne, 2007 Fatty acid metabolism in HepG2 cells: Limitations in the accumulation of docosahexaenoic acid in cell membranes, Flinders University, School of Medicine

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The current dietary recommendations for optimal health are designed to increase our intake of two bioactive omega-3 (n-3) fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, 20:5n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6n-3), abundant naturally in fatty fish such as salmon. Health authorities recommend that the general population consume two to three fatty fish meals per week (1) for optimal health and for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. However, some modern Western societies consume only modest amounts of fish and seafood (2;3). Land based vegetable oils may provide an alternative to meet these needs. Linseed and canola oils are rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, 18:3n-3) (4). ALA can be converted endogenously to EPA and DHA and suggests that increasing the dietary intake of ALA may increase the conversion and accumulation of DHA in tissues and plasma. However, elevated dietary intakes of ALA in animals and humans results in an increased level of EPA in tissues yet there is little or no change in the level of DHA (5-7). The current consensus is that the synthesis of DHA from ALA in humans is limited yet the mechanisms involved in regulating the accumulation of DHA in tissues are poorly understood. The reputed rate-limiting enzyme in the conversion of fatty acids is delta 6 desaturase (D6D). ALA is a substrate for D6D and undergoes a series of desaturation and elongation reactions to yield n-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA). The final step in the synthesis of DHA from ALA involves translocation of its immediate fatty acid precursor, 24:6n-3 from the endoplasmic reticulum to the peroxisome to be partially beta-oxidised to yield DHA. The involvement of multiple enzymes in the desaturation-elongation pathway, and the integration of other pathways, such as phospholipid biosynthesis, suggests there are various steps that may regulate the accumulation of DHA in cell membranes. This thesis aimed to examine the possible regulatory steps in the conversion of fatty acids to LCPUFA, particularly in the synthesis of DHA from n-3 fatty acid precursors. The human hepatoma cell line, HepG2, was used as an in vitro cell system to examine the accumulation of individual fatty acids and their metabolites in isolation from other competing fatty acid substrates. The accumulation of linoleic acid (LA, 18:2n-6) and ALA in HepG2 cell phospholipids following supplementation with increasing concentrations of each respective fatty acid correlated with that described in vivo, as was the accumulation of their conversion products. The accumulation of DHA in cells supplemented with ALA reached a plateau at concentrations above 5 micro g/ml and paralleled the accumulation of 24:6n-3 in cell phospholipids, suggesting that the delta 6 desaturation of 24:6n-3 was prevented by increasing concentrations of ALA, thereby limiting the accumulation of DHA. The accumulation of DHA in cells supplemented with eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, 20:5n-3) or docosapentaenoic acid (DPA, 22:5n-3) was significantly greater than the level of DHA that accumulated in cells supplemented with ALA. However, regardless of substrate, the level of DHA in cell membranes reached a plateau at substrate concentrations above 5 micro g/ml. This thesis further aimed to examine the effect of fatty acid supplementation on the mRNA expression of D6D in HepG2 cells. The expression and activity of D6D mRNA is subject to nutritional and hormonal regulation. The mRNA expression of D6D in HepG2 cells following supplementation with oleic acid (OA, 18:1n-9), LA, ALA, arachidonic acid (AA, 20:4n-6) or EPA was examined by real time RT PCR. The expression of D6D mRNA was reduced by up to 50% in cells supplemented with OA, LA, ALA , AA or EPA compared with control cells and suggests that fatty acids modulate the expression of the key enzyme involved in the conversion of fatty acids. The effect of fatty acid co-supplementation on the fatty acid composition of HepG2 cell phospholipids was also examined in an attempt to gain insights into the role of D6D and the enzymes involved in peroxisomal beta-oxidation on the accumulation of DHA from n-3 fatty acid precursors. The reduction in the accumulation of DHA in cells co-supplemented with DPA and docosatetraenoic acid (DTA, 22:4n-6) was greater than in cells co-supplemented with DPA and LA, suggesting that peroxisomal beta-oxidation may have a greater role in determining the accumulation of DHA from DPA than the activity of D6D. Further investigation should be directed towards understanding the role that peroxisomal beta-oxidation may play in the synthesis of DHA from precursor fatty acids. The fatty acid composition of cell membranes in vivo is a result of several physiological processes including dietary intake, phospholipids biosynthesis and fatty acid conversion as well as catabolic processes. This thesis demonstrates that a greater understanding of the regulation of the conversion of fatty acids will help to define dietary approaches that enhance the synthesis of n-3 LCPUFA from n-3 fatty acid precursors to lead to improved outcomes for health.

Keywords: fatty acid,beta-oxidation,delta 6 desaturase,conversion of fatty acids,HepG2 cells,phospholipids

Subject: Medicine thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2007
School: School of Medicine
Supervisor: Professor Robert Gibson