Long-chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Biosynthesis in Chordates: Insights Into the Evolution of Fads and Elovl Gene Repertoire

Prog Lipid Res. 2016 Apr;62:25-40. doi: 10.1016/j.plipres.2016.01.001. Epub 2016 Jan 6.


Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFA) are major components of complex lipid molecules and are also involved in numerous critical biological processes. Studies conducted mainly in vertebrates have demonstrated that LC-PUFA can be biosynthesized through the concerted action of two sets of enzymes, namely fatty acyl desaturases (Fads) and elongation of very long-chain fatty acid (Elovl) proteins. While LC-PUFA research is a thriving field, mainly focused on human health, an integrated view regarding the evolution of LC-PUFA biosynthetic genetic machinery in chordates is yet to be produced. Particularly important is to understand whether lineage specific life history trajectories, as well as major biological transitions, or particular genomic processes such as genome duplications have impacted the evolution of LC-PUFA biosynthetic pathways. Here we review the gene repertoire of Fads and Elovl in chordate genomes and the diversity of substrate specificities acquired during evolution. We take advantage of the magnitude of genomic and functional data to show that combination duplication processes and functional plasticity have generated a wide diversity of physiological capacities in extant lineages. A clear evolutionary framework is provided, which will be instrumental for the full clarification of functional capacities between the various vertebrate groups.

Keywords: Chordates; Elongation of very long-chain fatty acid protein; Evolution; Front-end desaturase; Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetyltransferases / genetics*
  • Acetyltransferases / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Chordata / genetics
  • Chordata / metabolism*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases / genetics*
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / biosynthesis*
  • Gene Duplication*
  • Genome
  • Humans
  • Multigene Family
  • Phylogeny
  • Substrate Specificity


  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases
  • Acetyltransferases