Biosynthesis of oleic, arachidonic and docosahexaenoic acids from their C18 precursors in the yolk sac membrane of the avian embryo

Brian K. Speake*, Elizabeth A. Deans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


The yolk sac membrane (YSM) of the chicken embryo is known to express δ-9 and δ-6 desaturase activities, suggesting that biosynthesis of the unsaturated fatty acids 18:1n-9, 20:4n-6 and 22:6n-3 might occur during the transfer of yolk lipids across the YSM. If so, this biosynthesis could help to satisfy the demands of the embryonic tissues for these unsaturates. To assess the ability of the YSM to perform these conversions, pieces of the tissue were incubated in vitro with the precursor fatty acids, 14C-18:0, 14C-18:2n-6 or 14C-18:3n-3, and the recovery of radioactivity in the respective products, 18:1n-9, 20:4n-6 and 22:6n-3, was determined. After 4 h of continuous incubation, radioactivity from these precursors was incorporated primarily into triacylglycerol and phospholipid of the tissue pieces. Only small proportions (0.3-4.7%) of this incorporated radioactivity were, however, recovered as 18:1n-9, 20:4n-6 or 22:6n-3. The majority of the incorporated label was retained in the form of the precursor fatty acids. After a 1-h pulse incubation with the 14C precursors, followed by a 3-h chase incubation in the absence of exogenous label, the conversion of incorporated radioactivity to the end product unsaturates was again relatively low (0.5-8.1%). Thus, although conversions of the precursors to the end product fatty acids were detectable in this system, the biosynthesis of these unsaturates is apparently a quantitatively minor pathway in the YSM. Nevertheless, since the amount of 18:2n-6 in the yolk lipids far exceeds that of 20:4n-6, the conversion of even a small proportion of the former to the latter fatty acid could significantly increase the supply of 20:4n-6 to the embryonic tissues.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)407-414
Number of pages8
JournalComparative Biochemistry and Physiology - B Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Issue number4
Publication statusPrint publication - Aug 2004


  • Arachidonic acid
  • Chick embryo
  • Desaturase
  • Docosahexaenoic acid
  • Oleic acid
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acid
  • Yolk
  • Yolk sac membrane


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