The developing seeds of Borago officinalis (common borage) accumulate a triacylglycerol oil that is relatively rich in the uncommon fatty acid gamma-linolenate (octadec-6,9,12-trienoic acid). Incubation of developing, whole, cotyledons with [14C]oleate and [14C]linoleate showed that the gamma-linolenate was synthesized by the sequential desaturation of oleate—linoleate—gamma-linolenate. Microsomal membrane preparations from the developing cotyledons contained an active delta 6-desaturase enzyme that catalysed the conversion of linoleate into gamma-linolenate. Experiments were designed to manipulate the [14C]linoleate content of the microsomal phosphatidylcholine. The [14C]linoleoyl phosphatidylcholine labelled in situ was converted into gamma-linolenoyl phosphatidylcholine in the presence of NADH. The substrate for the delta 6-desaturase in borage was, therefore, the linoleate in the complex microsomal lipid phosphatidylcholine, rather than, as in animals, the acyl-CoA. This was further confirmed in experiments that compared the specific radioactivity of the gamma-linolenate, in acyl-CoA and phosphatidylcholine, that was synthesized when [14C]linoleoyl-CoA was incubated with microsomal membranes, NADH and non-radioactive gamma-linolenoyl-CoA. The delta 6-desaturase was positionally specific and only utilized the linoleate in position 2 of sn-phosphatidylcholine. Analysis of the positional distribution of fatty acids in the endogenous microsomal sn-phosphatidylcholine showed that, whereas position 1 contained substantial linoleate, only small amounts of gamma-linolenate were present. The results shed further light on the synthesis of C18 polyunsaturated fatty acids in plants and in particular its relationship to the regulation of the acyl quality of the triacylglycerols in oilseeds.

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