Switching desaturase enzyme specificity by alternate subcellular targeting

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Jul 13;101(28):10266-71. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0402200101. Epub 2004 Jul 6.


The functionality, substrate specificity, and regiospecificity of enzymes typically evolve by the accumulation of mutations in the catalytic portion of the enzyme until new properties arise. However, emerging evidence suggests enzyme functionality can also be influenced by metabolic context. When the plastidial Arabidopsis 16:0Delta7 desaturase FAD5 (ADS3) was retargeted to the cytoplasm, regiospecificity shifted 70-fold, Delta7 to Delta9. Conversely, retargeting of two related cytoplasmic 16:0Delta9 Arabidopsis desaturases (ADS1 and ADS2) to the plastid, shifted regiospecificity approximately 25-fold, Delta9 to Delta7. All three desaturases exhibited Delta9 regiospecificity when expressed in yeast, with desaturated products found predominantly on phosphatidylcholine. Coexpression of each enzyme with cucumber monogalactosyldiacylglycerol (MGDG) synthase in yeast conferred Delta7 desaturation, with 16:1Delta7 accumulating specifically on the plastidial lipid MGDG. Positional analysis is consistent with ADS desaturation of 16:0 on MGDG. The lipid headgroup acts as a molecular switch for desaturase regiospecificity. FAD5 Delta7 regiospecificity is thus attributable to plastidial retargeting of the enzyme by addition of a transit peptide to a cytoplasmic Delta9 desaturase rather than the numerous sequence differences within the catalytic portion of ADS enzymes. The MGDG-dependent desaturase activity enabled plants to synthesize 16:1Delta7 and its abundant metabolite, 16:3Delta(7,10,13). Bioinformatics analysis of the Arabidopsis genome identified 239 protein families that contain members predicted to reside in different subcellular compartments, suggesting alternative targeting is widespread. Alternative targeting of bifunctional or multifunctional enzymes can exploit eukaryotic subcellular organization to create metabolic diversity by permitting isozymes to interact with different substrates and thus create different products in alternate compartments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arabidopsis / enzymology*
  • Arabidopsis / genetics
  • Catalytic Domain
  • Cell Compartmentation / physiology*
  • Cucumis sativus / enzymology*
  • Cucumis sativus / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases / chemistry
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases / genetics
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Galactosyltransferases / genetics
  • Galactosyltransferases / metabolism*
  • Substrate Specificity
  • Yeasts / genetics


  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases
  • Galactosyltransferases
  • 1,2-diacylglycerol 3-beta-galactosyltransferase