Fatty acid elongases in mammals: their regulation and roles in metabolism

Prog Lipid Res. 2006 May;45(3):237-49. doi: 10.1016/j.plipres.2006.01.004. Epub 2006 Mar 6.


A significant amount of the fatty acids synthesized by the cytosolic enzyme complex fatty acid synthase (FAS) or taken up by the diet are further elongated into very long chain fatty acids (VLCFA) in a four-step reaction cycle by membrane-bound enzymes predominantly located in the endoplasmic reticulum. Members of the Elovl (elongation-of-very-long-chain-fatty acids) gene family encode for enzymes (elongases), which are believed to perform the first, regulatory, step (condensation) in the elongation cycle in mammals. The family of enzymes consists of at least six members in mouse and human, believed to carry out substrate-specific elongation with fatty acids of different lengths and degrees of unsaturation. The ability to synthesize VLCFA is a ubiquitous system found in different organs and cell types. However, VLCFAs seldom occur unesterified. Instead, they are joined either by an ester or amide linkage to a broad variety of different lipid species. VLCFA are most commonly found as building blocks in sphingolipids, although they are also important constituents of glycerophospholipids, triacylglycerols, sterol- and wax-esters. To generalize, the fatty acid elongases can be divided into two major groups: (a) enzymes which are suggested to be involved in the elongation of saturated and monounsaturated VLCFA (ELOVL1, 3 and 6) and (b) enzymes which are elongases of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) (ELOVL2, 4 and 5). All the elongases exhibit specific spatial and temporal expression. In this review, we will present and discuss the regulation of the mammalian fatty acid elongases and their potential role in lipid metabolism. We will consider both the biochemical functions of the proteins, as well as their role in a more physiological context.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetyltransferases / genetics
  • Acetyltransferases / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Fatty Acid Elongases
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / biosynthesis
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Lipid Metabolism / physiology*
  • Mammals / metabolism*
  • Membrane Proteins / physiology


  • ELOVL1 protein, human
  • ELOVL2 protein, human
  • ELOVL2 protein, mouse
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Acetyltransferases
  • Fatty Acid Elongases