- Lipids play essential roles in maintaining cell structure and function by modulating membrane fluidity and cell signaling. The fatty acid elongase-4 (ELOVL4) protein, expressed in retina, brain, Meibomian glands, skin, testes and sperm, is an essential enzyme that mediates tissue-specific biosynthesis of both VLC-PUFA and VLC-saturated fatty acids (VLC-SFA). These fatty acids play critical roles in maintaining retina and brain function, neuroprotection, skin permeability barrier maintenance, and sperm function, among other important cellular processes.
- The essential fatty acid DHA (22:6, omega-3 or n-3) is enriched in and required for the membrane biogenesis and function of photoreceptor cells (PRCs), synapses, mitochondria, etc. of the CNS. PRC DHA becomes an acyl chain at the sn-2 of phosphatidylcholine, amounting to more than 50% of the PRC outer segment phospholipids, where phototransduction takes place. Very long chain PUFAs (n-3, ≥ 28 carbons) are at the sn-1 of this phosphatidylcholine molecular species and interact with rhodopsin. PRC shed their tips (DHA-rich membrane disks) daily, which in turn are phagocytized by the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), where DHA is recycled back to PRC inner segments to be used for the biogenesis of new photoreceptor membranes.