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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Fatty acyl-CoA reductases of birds

Janine Hellenbrand1*, Eva-Maria Biester1, Jens Gruber1, Mats Hamberg2 and Margrit Frentzen1

Author Affiliations

1 Special Botany, Institute for Biology I, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany

2 Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics, Division of Physiological Chemistry II, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden

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BMC Biochemistry 2011, 12:64  doi:10.1186/1471-2091-12-64

Published: 12 December 2011

Abstract

Background

Birds clean and lubricate their feathers with waxes that are produced in the uropygial gland, a holocrine gland located on their back above the tail. The type and the composition of the secreted wax esters are dependent on the bird species, for instance the wax ester secretion of goose contains branched-chain fatty acids and unbranched fatty alcohols, whereas that of barn owl contains fatty acids and alcohols both of which are branched. Alcohol-forming fatty acyl-CoA reductases (FAR) catalyze the reduction of activated acyl groups to fatty alcohols that can be esterified with acyl-CoA thioesters forming wax esters.

Results

cDNA sequences encoding fatty acyl-CoA reductases were cloned from the uropygial glands of barn owl (Tyto alba), domestic chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus) and domestic goose (Anser anser domesticus). Heterologous expression in Saccharomyces cerevisiae showed that they encode membrane associated enzymes which catalyze a NADPH dependent reduction of acyl-CoA thioesters to fatty alcohols. By feeding studies of transgenic yeast cultures and in vitro enzyme assays with membrane fractions of transgenic yeast cells two groups of isozymes with different properties were identified, termed FAR1 and FAR2. The FAR1 group mainly synthesized 1-hexadecanol and accepted substrates in the range between 14 and 18 carbon atoms, whereas the FAR2 group preferred stearoyl-CoA and accepted substrates between 16 and 20 carbon atoms. Expression studies with tissues of domestic chicken indicated that FAR transcripts were not restricted to the uropygial gland.

Conclusion

The data of our study suggest that the identified and characterized avian FAR isozymes, FAR1 and FAR2, can be involved in wax ester biosynthesis and in other pathways like ether lipid synthesis.