Rat hepatocytes in primary culture were incubated with a mixture of linoleic and arachidonic acid at various total fatty acid/serum albumin molar ratios. Mixed fatty acids were taken up at the same rate and distributed with the same pattern as fatty acids added separately. The rates of total uptake, incorporation into hepatocyte and secreted triacylglycerols and beta-oxidation were linearly related to the fatty acid/albumin ratios, whereas the rate of incorporation into phospholipids was saturable. Neither the uptake rate nor the distribution of both fatty acids considered together varied with the arachidonic acid/linoleic acid molar ratio. Changes in this ratio and in the uptake rate led to significant variations in the respective fate of the fatty acids. The preferential channelling of arachidonic acid versus linoleic acid into beta-oxidation and phosphatidylinositol was greatest at a low uptake rate and then decreased as the uptake rose. Conversely, the preferential channelling of arachidonic acid versus linoleic acid into phosphatidylcholine, but not phosphatidylethanolamine, increased with the uptake rate. Moreover, both arachidonic acid and linoleic acid were preferentially incorporated into the 1-palmitoyl molecular species of phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine at a low uptake rate, and of phosphatidylcholine at a high uptake rate. This could be related to the synthesis of biliary phosphatidylcholine, of which 1-palmitoyl-2-linoleoyl and 1-palmitoyl-2-arachidonoyl are the main molecular species. Linoleic and arachidonic acid were selectively distributed into distinct metabolic pools of triacylglycerol, the intrahepatocyte pool which preferentially incorporated linoleic acid at a low uptake rate and the secreted pool in which the relative enrichment of arachidonic acid increased with the uptake rate. This strengthens the central role of hepatic secretion in the supply of arachidonic acid to peripheral tissues.

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