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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Regulation of membrane fatty acid composition by temperature in mutants of Arabidopsis with alterations in membrane lipid composition

Deane L Falcone14*, Joseph P Ogas2 and Chris R Somerville3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Agronomy and the Kentucky Tobacco Research & Development Center, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40546 USA

2 Department of Biochemistry, Purdue University, W. Lafayette, IN 47907 USA

3 Carnegie Institution, Department of Plant Biology, 260 Panama Street, Stanford, CA 94305 USA

4 Current Address:Department of Biological Sciences, University of Massachusetts Lowells One University Avenue, Lowell, MA/01854 USA

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BMC Plant Biology 2004, 4:17  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-4-17

Published: 17 September 2004



A wide range of cellular responses occur when plants are exposed to elevated temperature, including adjustments in the unsaturation level of membrane fatty acids. Although membrane bound desaturase enzymes mediate these adjustments, it is unknown how they are regulated to achieve these specific membrane compositions. Furthermore, the precise roles that different membrane fatty acid compositions play in photosynthesis are only beginning to be understood. To explore the regulation of the membrane composition and photosynthetic function in response to temperature, we examined the effect of temperature in a collection of mutants with altered membrane lipid fatty acid composition.


In agreement with previous studies in other species, the level of unsaturation of membrane fatty acids in Arabidopsis was inversely correlated with growth temperature. The time required for the membrane fatty acids to attain the composition observed at elevated temperature was consistent with the timing required for the synthesis of new fatty acids. Comparisons of temperature-induced fatty acid alterations in membranes were made among several Arabidopsis lines including wild-type Columbia, and the compositional mutants, fad5, fad6, act1 and double mutants, fad7 fad8 and act1 fad6. The results revealed key changes that occur in response to elevated temperature regardless of the specific mutations in the glycerolipid pathway, including marked decreases in trienoic fatty acids and consistent increases in unsaturated 16:0 and in dienoic 18:2 levels. Fluorescence measurements of various mutants indicated that photosynthetic stability as well as whole plant growth at elevated temperature is influenced by certain membrane fatty acid compositions.


The results of this study support the premise that defined proportions of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids in membrane lipids are required for photosynthetic thermostability and acclimation to elevated temperature. The results also suggest that changes in the membrane fatty acid composition brought about in response to temperature are regulated in such a way so as to achieve highly similar unsaturation levels despite mutations that alter the membrane composition prior to a high-temperature exposure. The results from examination of the mutant lines also suggest that interorganellar transfer of fatty acids are involved in mediating temperature-induced membrane alterations, and reveal steps in the fatty acid unsaturation pathway that appear to have key roles in the acclimatization of membranes to high temperature.

Membrane ipids; thermotolerance; fatty acid desaturase; glycerolipid pathway; PS II fluorescence