Fatty acid desaturase

Fatty acid desaturase
Fatty acid desaturase, type 1
Symbol Fatty_acid_desaturase-1
Pfam PF00487
InterPro IPR005804
Fatty acid desaturase, type 2
Symbol Fatty_acid_desaturase-2
Pfam PF03405
InterPro IPR005067

A fatty acid desaturase is an enzyme that removes two hydrogen atoms from a fatty acid, creating a carbon/carbon double bond. These desaturases are classified as

  • delta - indicating that the double bond is created at a fixed position from the carboxyl group of a fatty acid (for example, Δ9desaturase creates a double bond at the 9th position from the carboxyl end).
  • omega (e.g. ω3desaturase) - indicating the double bond is created between the third and fourth carbon from the methyl end of the fatty acid.

In the biosynthesis of essential fatty acids, an elongase alternates with different desaturases (for example, Δ6desaturase) repeatedly inserting an ethyl group, then forming a double bond.

Role in human metabolism

Four desaturases occur in humans: Δ9desaturase, Δ6desaturase, Δ5 desaturase, and Δ4 desaturase.

Δ9desaturase, also known as Stearoyl-CoA desaturase-1, is used to synthesize oleic acid, a monounsaturated, ubiquitous component of all cells in the human body. Δ9desaturase produces oleic acid by desaturating stearic acid, a saturated fatty acid either synthesized in the body from palmitic acid or ingested directly.

Δ6 and Δ5 desaturases are required for the synthesis of highly unsaturated fatty acids such as eicosopentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids (synthesized from a-linolenic acid), and arachidonic acid (synthesized from linoleic acid). This is a multi-stage process requiring successive actions by elongase and desaturase enzymes. The genes coding for Δ6 and Δ5 desaturase production have been located on human chromosome 11.

  • Human fatty acid desaturases:



Δ-desaturases are represented by two distinct families which do not seem to be evolutionary related.

Family 1 includes Stearoyl-CoA desaturase-1 (SCD) (EC[1]

Family 2 is composed of:

  • - Bacterial fatty acid desaturases.
  • - Plant stearoyl-acyl-carrier-protein desaturase (EC,[2] this enzyme catalyzes the introduction of a double bond at the delta(9) position of steraoyl-ACP to produce oleoyl-ACP. This enzyme is responsible for the conversion of saturated fatty acids to unsaturated fatty acids in the synthesis of vegetable oils.
  • - Cyanobacterial DesA,[3] an enzyme that can introduce a second cis double bond at the delta(12) position of fatty acid bound to membranes glycerolipids. DesA is involved in chilling tolerance; the phase transition temperature of lipids of cellular membranes being dependent on the degree of unsaturation of fatty acids of the membrane lipids.


  1. ^ Lane MD, Ntambi JM, Kaestner KH, Kelly Jr TJ (1989). "Differentiation-induced gene expression in 3T3-L1 preadipocytes. A second differentially expressed gene encoding stearoyl-CoA desaturase". J. Biol. Chem. 264 (25): 14755–14761. PMID 2570068. 
  2. ^ Shanklin J, Somerville C (1991). "Stearoyl-acyl-carrier-protein desaturase from higher plants is structurally unrelated to the animal and fungal homologs". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 88 (6): 2510–2514. doi:10.1073/pnas.88.6.2510. PMC 51262. PMID 2006187. http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pmcentrez&artid=51262. 
  3. ^ Wada H, Gombos Z, Murata N (1990). "Enhancement of chilling tolerance of a cyanobacterium by genetic manipulation of fatty acid desaturation". Nature 347 (6289): 200–203. doi:10.1038/347200a0. PMID 2118597. 

Nakamura MT, Nara TY (2004). "Structure, function and dietary regulation of Δ6, Δ5 and Δ9 desaturases". Annual Review of Nutrition 24 (24): 345–76. doi:10.1146/annurev.nutr.24.121803.063211. PMID 15189125. 

This article includes text from the public domain Pfam and InterPro IPR005067