Background: Lipid droplets are ubiquitous organelles that are among the basic building blocks of eukaryotic cells. Despite central roles for cholesterol homeostasis and lipid metabolism, their function and protein composition are poorly understood.
Results: We purified lipid droplets from Drosophila embryos and analyzed the associated proteins by capillary LC-MS-MS. Important functional groups include enzymes involved in lipid metabolism, signaling molecules, and proteins related to membrane trafficking. Unexpectedly, histones H2A, H2Av, and H2B were present. Using biochemistry, genetics, real-time imaging, and cell biology, we confirm that roughly 50% of certain embryonic histones are physically attached to lipid droplets, a localization conserved in other fly species. Histone association with droplets starts during oogenesis and is prominent in early embryos, but it is undetectable in later stages or in cultured cells. Histones on droplets are not irreversibly trapped; quantitation of droplet histone levels and transplantation experiments suggest that histones are transferred from droplets to nuclei as development proceeds. When this maternal store of histones is unavailable because lipid droplets are mislocalized, zygotic histone production starts prematurely.
Conclusions: Because we uncover a striking proteomic similarity of Drosophila droplets to mammalian lipid droplets, Drosophila likely provides a good model for understanding droplet function in general. Our analysis also reveals a new function for these organelles; the massive nature of histone association with droplets and its developmental time-course suggest that droplets sequester maternally provided proteins until they are needed. We propose that lipid droplets can serve as transient storage depots for proteins that lack appropriate binding partners in the cell. Such sequestration may provide a general cellular strategy for handling excess proteins.