The four most important non-specific carboxylesterases from rat liver were assayed for their ability to hydrolyse retinyl esters. Only the esterases with pI 6.2 and 6.4 (= esterase ES-4) are able to hydrolyse retinyl palmitate. Their specific activities strongly depend on the emulsifier used (maximum rate: 440 nmol of retinol liberated/h per mg of esterase). Beside retinyl palmitate, these esterases cleave palmitoyl-CoA and monoacylglycerols with much higher rates, as well as certain drugs (e.g. aspirin and propanidid). However, no transacylation between palmitoyl-CoA and retinol occurs. Retinyl acetate also is a substrate for the above esterases and for another one with pI 5.6 (= esterase ES-3). Again the emulsifier influences the hydrolysis by these esterases (maximum rates: 475 nmol/h per mg for ES-4 and 200 nmol/h per mg for ES-3). Differential centrifugation of rat liver homogenate reveals that retinyl palmitate hydrolase activity is highly enriched in the plasma membranes, but only moderately so in the endoplasmic reticulum, where the investigated esterases are located. Since the latter activity can be largely inhibited with the selective esterase inhibitor bis-(4-nitrophenyl) phosphate, it is concluded that the esterases with pI 6.2 and 6.4 (ES-4) represent the main retinyl palmitate hydrolase of rat liver endoplasmic reticulum. In view of this cellular localization, the enzyme could possibly be involved in the mobilization of retinol from the vitamin A esters stored in the liver. However, preliminary experiments in vivo have failed to demonstrate such a biological function.

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