Photo-controlled delivery of very long chain fatty acids to cell membranes and modulation of membrane protein function

Biochim Biophys Acta Biomembr. 2020 May 1;1862(5):183200. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamem.2020.183200. Epub 2020 Jan 20.


The biophysical properties and biological functions of membranes are highly dependent on lipid composition. Supplementing cellular membranes with very long chain fatty acids (vlcFAs) is notoriously difficult given the extreme insolubility of vlcFAs in aqueous solution. Herein, we report a solvent-free, photochemical approach to enrich target membranes with vlcFA. To prevent aggregation of vlcFA, we created light-sensitive micelles composed exclusively of poly-ethylene-glycol-nervonic acid amphiphiles (NA-PEG), which spontaneously disassemble in the presence of lipid bilayers. Once embedded within a membrane, UV light is used to cleave off PEG, leaving free nervonic acid (NA, i.e. FA24:1) in the target membrane. When applied to living cells, free NA was processed by the cell to generate various species of membrane and other lipids with incorporated vlcFAs. In this way, we were able to alter the membrane lipid composition of cellular membranes and modulate the enzymatic activity of γ-secretase, an intramembrane protease whose dysfunction has been implicated in the onset and progression of Alzheimer's disease.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; Cell membranes; Light activation; Lipidomics; Nervonic acid; Very long chain fatty acids; γ-Secretase.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease
  • Amyloid Precursor Protein Secretases / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane / chemistry*
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids / chemistry*
  • Fatty Acids, Monounsaturated / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Lipid Bilayers / chemistry*
  • Lipid Bilayers / isolation & purification
  • Membrane Lipids / metabolism
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Membranes / metabolism
  • Micelles
  • Photochemical Processes
  • Polyethylene Glycols / chemistry


  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Monounsaturated
  • Lipid Bilayers
  • Membrane Lipids
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Micelles
  • Polyethylene Glycols
  • nervonic acid
  • Amyloid Precursor Protein Secretases