Fatty acid synthesis by elongases in trypanosomes

Cell. 2006 Aug 25;126(4):691-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2006.06.045.


All eukaryotic and prokaryotic organisms are thought to synthesize fatty acids using a type I or type II synthase. In addition, eukaryotes extend pre-existing long chain fatty acids using microsomal elongases (ELOs). We have found that Trypanosoma brucei, a eukaryotic human parasite that causes sleeping sickness, uses three elongases instead of type I or type II synthases for the synthesis of nearly all its fatty acids. Trypanosomes encounter diverse environments during their life cycle with different fatty acid requirements. The tsetse vector form requires synthesis of stearate (C18), whereas the bloodstream form needs myristate (C14). We find that trypanosome fatty acid synthesis is modular, with ELO1 converting C4 to C10, ELO2 extending C10 to C14, and ELO3 elongating C14 to C18. In blood, ELO3 downregulation favors myristate synthesis, whereas low concentrations of exogenous fatty acids in cultured parasites cause upregulation of the entire pathway, allowing the parasite to adapt to different environments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acetyltransferases / genetics
  • Acetyltransferases / metabolism*
  • Acyl Coenzyme A / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cell-Free System
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases / genetics
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids / biosynthesis*
  • Humans
  • Isoenzymes / genetics
  • Isoenzymes / metabolism
  • Protozoan Proteins / genetics
  • Protozoan Proteins / metabolism*
  • RNA Interference
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / enzymology
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / metabolism*


  • Acyl Coenzyme A
  • Fatty Acids
  • Isoenzymes
  • Protozoan Proteins
  • arachidonyl-coenzyme A
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases
  • Acetyltransferases