The metabolism of 1-11C-labelled derivatives of palmitic (C16:0), arachidonic (C20:4,n-6) lignoceric (C21:0) and tetracosatetraenoic (C24:4,n-6) acids was studied in normal skin fibroblast cultures and in cultures of fibroblasts from peroxisome-deficient (Zellweger's syndrome) patients. Radiolabelled products of the fatty acids included carbon dioxide. C14-24 saturated and mono-unsaturated fatty acids formed from released acetate either by synthesis de novo or by elongation of endogenous fatty acids, fatty acids formed by 2-6-carbon elongation of added substrates, and a number of water-soluble compounds, some of which were tentatively identified as the amino acids glutamine, glutamic acid and asparagine. The labelled amino acids were found predominantly in the culture medium. Zellweger's syndrome fibroblasts showed a marked decrease in radiolabelled carbon dioxide and water-soluble-product formation from (I-14C)-labelled arachidonic, tetracosatetraenoic and lignoceric acids but not from [I-14C]palmitic acid, and the production of radiolabelled C14-18 fatty acids was also diminished. However, the elongation of individual fatty acids was either normal or above normal. Our data support the view that the oxidation of 20:4, 24:4 and 24:0 fatty acids in cultured skin fibroblasts takes place largely in peroxisomes, and further that the acetyl-CoA released by the beta-oxidation process is available for the synthesis of fatty acids and amino acids. We speculate that the generation of C2 units used for synthesis is a major peroxisomal function and that this function is absent or greatly impaired in Zellweger's syndrome cells.

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