Orphan enzymes in ether lipid metabolism

Biochimie. 2013 Jan;95(1):59-65. doi: 10.1016/j.biochi.2012.06.027. Epub 2012 Jul 4.


Ether lipids are an emerging class of lipids which have so far not been investigated and understood in every detail. They have important roles as membrane components of e.g. lens, brain and testis, and as mediators such as platelet-activating factor. The metabolic enzymes for biosynthesis and degradation have been investigated to some extent. As most involved enzymes are integral membrane proteins they are tricky to handle in biochemical protocols. The sequence of some ether lipid metabolising enzymes has only recently been reported and other sequences still remain obscure. Defined enzymes without assigned sequence are known as orphan enzymes. One of these enzymes with uncharacterised sequence is plasmanylethanolamine desaturase, a key enzyme for the biosynthesis of one of the most abundant phospholipids in our body, the plasmalogens. This review aims to briefly summarise known functions of ether lipids, give an overview on their metabolism including the most prominent members, platelet-activating factor and the plasmalogens. A special focus is set on the description of orphan enzymes in ether lipid metabolism and on the successful strategies how four previous orphans have recently been assigned a sequence. Only one of these four was characterised by classical protein purification and sequencing, whereas the other three required alternative strategies such as bioinformatic candidate gene selection and recombinant expression or development of an inhibitor and multidimensional metabolic profiling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Membrane / enzymology*
  • Enzymes* / chemistry
  • Enzymes* / classification
  • Enzymes* / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism*
  • Lipids / biosynthesis
  • Phospholipid Ethers* / chemistry
  • Phospholipid Ethers* / metabolism
  • Plasmalogens / chemistry
  • Plasmalogens / metabolism
  • Platelet Activating Factor / chemistry
  • Platelet Activating Factor / metabolism


  • Enzymes
  • Lipids
  • Phospholipid Ethers
  • Plasmalogens
  • Platelet Activating Factor