The placenta plays a major role in transporting lipid to the developing foetus. Since previous studies have suggested that placental lipid transport involves intermediate esterification steps, we investigated selected microsomal and lysosomal enzymes of triacylglycerol metabolism in rat placenta. Between gestational days 10 and 14, microsomal phosphatidic acid phosphatase specific activity was 6-fold greater than the activity in adult rat liver. Phosphatidic acid phosphatase activity decreased 50% on day 15. Studies employing several different phosphorylated substrates indicated a high degree of substrate specificity. Lysosomal triacylglycerol lipase and cholesterol esterase activities decreased about 50% between days 15 and 18, then rose late in gestation. No changes were observed in the specific activities of fatty acid: CoA ligase, glycerolphosphate acyltransferase, lysophosphatidate acyltransferase, diacylglycerol acyltransferase or diacylglycerol cholinephosphotransferase during the final 12 days of gestation. Kinetic observations (competitive inhibition by alternative substrates, pH-dependence and thermal inactivation) were consistent with the hypothesis that glycerol phosphate and dihydroxyacetone phosphate can be acylated by a single microsomal enzyme in placenta. Except for fatty acid: CoA ligase, the activities of microsomal and lysosomal enzymes of triacylglycerol metabolism were comparable with those in adult rat liver. These observations are consistent with physiological studies suggesting that triacylglycerol synthetic and degradative pathways are very active in rat placenta.

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