Improved embryo health

Submitted by Shelby D Burns Fri 01/03/2014

One of the mysteries of developing life is how different tissue types find their correct position in the developing embryo. Unexpected findings from a team led by Carnegie’s Steven Farber reveals the importance of polyunsaturated fatty acid metabolism in the process. Understanding and improving this process could lead to healthier embryos. The building material of cellular membranes Fatty acids are a source of energy. They are the building materials of cellular membranes, and they are signals for sending messages between cells. Enzymes are necessary to activate free fatty acids so that they can become useful for cellular processes. The enzymes that perform this function are referred to by the acronym ACS. One member of the ACS family is ACSL4. This enzyme activates special fatty acids called polyunsaturated fatty acids. Mutations in ACSL4 are linked to developmental disorders including a type of mental retardation associated with the X chromosome. These enzymes play a role in brain development and embryonic survival. Studying this enzyme is problematic because the maternal delivery of polyunsaturated fatty acids to the developing embryo as well as the need for polyunsaturated fatty acids in embryo implantation and uterus development. Crucial for proper embryo development Farber and his research team used the externally developing zebrafish to understand what ACSL4 does during embryogenesis. They found that it is essential for developing proper tissue organization. They discovered that the enzyme activity regulates a specific protein in the Bmp signaling pathway which is essential for proper embryo organization. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are critical “We’ve known for some time that polyunsaturated fatty acids are important to prenatal health; in the US, these fatty acids are widely included in prenatal vitamins. By connecting polyunsaturated fatty acid metabolism with a fundamental signaling pathway in the early embryo, our study provides a clue as to why they are so critical. These results lay the groundwork for further research on polyunsaturated fatty acid metabolism and its various roles in development and disease,” Farber explained.

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