Two Alternative Pathways for Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA, 22:6n-3) Biosynthesis Are Widespread Among Teleost Fish

Sci Rep. 2017 Jun 20;7(1):3889. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-04288-2.


Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) plays important physiological roles in vertebrates. Studies in rats and rainbow trout confirmed that DHA biosynthesis proceeds through the so-called "Sprecher pathway", a biosynthetic process requiring a Δ6 desaturation of 24:5n-3 to 24:6n-3. Alternatively, some teleosts possess fatty acyl desaturases 2 (Fads2) that enable them to biosynthesis DHA through a more direct route termed the "Δ4 pathway". In order to elucidate the prevalence of both pathways among teleosts, we investigated the Δ6 ability towards C24 substrates of Fads2 from fish with different evolutionary and ecological backgrounds. Subsequently, we retrieved public databases to identify Fads2 containing the YXXN domain responsible for the Δ4 desaturase function, and consequently enabling these species to operate the Δ4 pathway. We demonstrated that, with the exception of Δ4 desaturases, fish Fads2 have the ability to operate as Δ6 desaturases towards C24 PUFA enabling them to synthesise DHA through the Sprecher pathway. Nevertheless, the Δ4 pathway represents an alternative route in some teleosts and we identified the presence of putative Δ4 Fads2 in a further 11 species and confirmed the function as Δ4 desaturases of Fads2 from medaka and Nile tilapia. Our results demonstrated that two alternative pathways for DHA biosynthesis exist in teleosts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / biosynthesis*
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / metabolism
  • Fishes / classification
  • Fishes / genetics
  • Fishes / metabolism*
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways*
  • Phylogeny


  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases