Myristate is the exclusive fatty acid species in the glycosyl phosphatidylinositol (GPI) anchor of the Trypanosoma brucei variant surface glycoprotein (VSG). [3H]Myristate can be incorporated into T. brucei GPIs by two distinct processes known as fatty acid remodelling and myristate exchange. Myristoyllysophosphatidylcholine (M-LPC) can also serve as a myristate donor for VSG in trypanosomes [Bowes, Samad, Jiang, Weaver and Mellors (1993) J. Biol. Chem. 268, 13885–13892]. We have studied in detail the myristoylation of GPIs using a [3H]M-LPC substrate. Labelling of VSG and free GPIs by [3H]M-LPC in cultured trypanosomes occurred at the same rate as with [3H]myristate. Concurrent with GPI labelling, there was rapid hydrolysis of [3H]M-LPC to generate extracellular [3H]myristate. Experiments in a trypanosomal cell-free system indicated that GPI labelling by fatty acid remodelling and myristate exchange was also equally efficient with [3H]M-LPC and [3H]myristate. Furthermore, both ATP and CoA are required for the myristoylation of GPIs by [3H]M-LPC. These experiments suggest that GPI myristoylation from M-LPC involves hydrolysis of M-LPC to free myristate. To address the physiological importance of myristate and M-LPC in VSG myristoylation, we radiolabelled trypanosomes in vivo with both substrates in medium containing serum, and found that [3H]myristate labelled VSG and GPIs more efficiently. Thus, VSG myristoylation by free myristate may be favoured in bloodstream trypanosome infections.

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