Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids are required for efficient neurotransmission in C. elegans. Academic Article uri icon


  • The complex lipid constituents of the eukaryotic plasma membrane are precisely controlled in a cell-type-specific manner, suggesting an important, but as yet, unknown cellular function. Neuronal membranes are enriched in long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs) and alterations in LC-PUFA metabolism cause debilitating neuronal pathologies. However, the physiological role of LC-PUFAs in neurons is unknown. We have characterized the neuronal phenotype of C. elegans mutants depleted of LC-PUFAs. The C. elegans genome encodes a single Delta6-desaturase gene (fat-3), an essential enzyme for LC-PUFA biosynthesis. Animals lacking fat-3 function do not synthesize LC-PUFAs and show movement and egg-laying abnormalities associated with neuronal impairment. Expression of functional fat-3 in neurons, or application of exogenous LC-PUFAs to adult animals rescues these defects. Pharmacological, ultrastructural and electrophysiological analyses demonstrate that fat-3 mutant animals are depleted of synaptic vesicles and release abnormally low levels of neurotransmitter at cholinergic and serotonergic neuromuscular junctions. These data indicate that LC-PUFAs are essential for efficient neurotransmission in C. elegans and may account for the clinical conditions associated with mis-regulation of LC-PUFAs in humans.

publication date

  • December 15, 2003