Phosphatidylserine (PS) and phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) are metabolically related membrane aminophospholipids. In mammalian cells, PS is required for targeting and function of several intracellular signaling proteins. Moreover, PS is asymmetrically distributed in the plasma membrane. Although PS is highly enriched in the cytoplasmic leaflet of plasma membranes, PS exposure on the cell surface initiates blood clotting and removal of apoptotic cells. PS is synthesized in mammalian cells by two distinct PS synthases that exchange serine for choline or ethanolamine in phosphatidylcholine (PC) or PE, respectively. Targeted disruption of each PS synthase individually in mice demonstrated that neither enzyme is required for viability whereas elimination of both synthases was embryonic lethal. Thus, mammalian cells require a threshold amount of PS. PE is synthesized in mammalian cells by four different pathways, the quantitatively most important of which are the CDP-ethanolamine pathway that produces PE in the ER, and PS decarboxylation that occurs in mitochondria. PS is made in ER membranes and is imported into mitochondria for decarboxylation to PE via a domain of the ER [mitochondria-associated membranes (MAM)] that transiently associates with mitochondria. Elimination of PS decarboxylase in mice caused mitochondrial defects and embryonic lethality. Global elimination of the CDP-ethanolamine pathway was also incompatible with mouse survival. Thus, PE made by each of these pathways has independent and necessary functions. In mammals PE is a substrate for methylation to PC in the liver, a substrate for anandamide synthesis, and supplies ethanolamine for glycosylphosphatidylinositol anchors of cell-surface signaling proteins. Thus, PS and PE participate in many previously unanticipated facets of mammalian cell biology. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled Phospholipids and Phospholipid Metabolism.
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