Structure, function, and dietary regulation of Δ6, Δ5, and Δ9 desaturases

Manabu T. Nakamura, Takayuki Y. Nara

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Fatty acid desaturases introduce a double bond in a specific position of long-chain fatty acids, and are conserved across kingdoms. Degree of unsaturation of fatty acids affects physical properties of membrane phospholipids and stored triglycerides. In addition, metabolites of polyunsaturated fatty acids are used as signaling molecules in many organisms. Three desaturases, Δ9, Δ6, and Δ5, are present in humans. Delta-9 catalyzes synthesis of monounsaturated fatty acids. Oleic acid, a main product of Δ9 desaturase, is the major fatty acid in mammalian adipose triglycerides, and is also used for phospholipid and cholesteryl ester synthesis. Delta-6 and Δ5 desaturases are required for the synthesis of highly unsaturated fatty acids (HUFAs), which are mainly esterified into phospholipids and contribute to maintaining membrane fluidity. While HUFAs may be required for cold tolerance in plants and fish, the primary role of HUFAs in mammals is cell signaling. Arachidonic acid is required as substrates for eicosanoid synthesis, while docosahexaenoic acid is required in visual and neuronal functions. Desaturases in mammals are regulated at the transcriptional level. Reflecting overlapping functions, three desaturases share a common mechanism of a feedback regulation to maintain products in membrane phospholipids. At the same time, regulation of Δ9 desaturase differs from Δ6 and Δ5 desaturases because its products are incorporated into more diverse lipid groups. Combinations of multiple transcription factors achieve this sophisticated differential regulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)345-376
Number of pages32
JournalAnnual Review of Nutrition
StatePublished - 2004


  • ChREBP
  • LXR
  • PPAR
  • Unsaturated fatty acid synthesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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