Docosahexaenoic acid lowers cardiac mitochondrial enzyme activity by replacing linoleic acid in the phospholipidome

J Biol Chem. 2018 Jan 12;293(2):466-483. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M117.812834. Epub 2017 Nov 21.


Cardiac mitochondrial phospholipid acyl chains regulate respiratory enzymatic activity. In several diseases, the rodent cardiac phospholipidome is extensively rearranged; however, whether specific acyl chains impair respiratory enzyme function is unknown. One unique remodeling event in the myocardium of obese and diabetic rodents is an increase in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) levels. Here, we first confirmed that cardiac DHA levels are elevated in diabetic humans relative to controls. We then used dietary supplementation of a Western diet with DHA as a tool to promote cardiac acyl chain remodeling and to study its influence on respiratory enzyme function. DHA extensively remodeled the acyl chains of cardiolipin (CL), mono-lyso CL, phosphatidylcholine, and phosphatidylethanolamine. Moreover, DHA lowered enzyme activities of respiratory complexes I, IV, V, and I+III. Mechanistically, the reduction in enzymatic activities were not driven by a dramatic reduction in the abundance of supercomplexes. Instead, replacement of tetralinoleoyl-CL with tetradocosahexaenoyl-CL in biomimetic membranes prevented formation of phospholipid domains that regulate enzyme activity. Tetradocosahexaenoyl-CL inhibited domain organization due to favorable Gibbs free energy of phospholipid mixing. Furthermore, in vitro substitution of tetralinoleoyl-CL with tetradocosahexaenoyl-CL blocked complex-IV binding. Finally, reintroduction of linoleic acid, via fusion of phospholipid vesicles to mitochondria isolated from DHA-fed mice, rescued the major losses in the mitochondrial phospholipidome and complexes I, IV, and V activities. Altogether, our results show that replacing linoleic acid with DHA lowers select cardiac enzyme activities by potentially targeting domain organization and phospholipid-protein binding, which has implications for the ongoing debate about polyunsaturated fatty acids and cardiac health.

Keywords: cardiolipin; lipid vesicle; mass spectrometry (MS); membrane; mitochondria; phospholipid; polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Cardiolipins / metabolism
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / pharmacology*
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / pharmacology
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / metabolism
  • Heart / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Linoleic Acid / metabolism*
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Mitochondria, Heart / drug effects
  • Mitochondria, Heart / metabolism*
  • Myocardium / metabolism*
  • Phosphatidylcholines / metabolism
  • Phosphatidylethanolamines / metabolism
  • Phospholipids / metabolism*


  • Cardiolipins
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Phosphatidylcholines
  • Phosphatidylethanolamines
  • Phospholipids
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • phosphatidylethanolamine
  • Linoleic Acid
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid