Marine Biotechnology

, Volume 11, Issue 5, pp 627–639

Highly Unsaturated Fatty Acid Synthesis in Atlantic Salmon: Characterization of ELOVL5- and ELOVL2-like Elongases

  • Sofia Morais
  • Oscar Monroig
  • Xiaozhong Zheng
  • Michael J. Leaver
  • Douglas R. Tocher
Original Article


Fish species vary in their capacity to biosynthesize the n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFA), eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA) acids that are crucial to the health of higher vertebrates. The synthesis of LC-PUFA involves enzyme-mediated fatty acyl desaturation and elongation. Previously, a complementary DNA (cDNA) for an elongase, now termed elovl5a, had been cloned from Atlantic salmon. Here, we report on the cloning of two new elongase cDNAs: a second elovl5b elongase, corresponding to a 294-amino-acid (aa) protein, and an elovl2-like elongase, coding for a 287-aa protein, characterized for the first time in a nonmammalian vertebrate. Heterologous expression in yeast showed that the salmon Elovl5b elongated C18 and C20 PUFA, with low activity towards C22, while Elovl2 elongated C20 and C22 PUFA with lower activity towards C18 PUFA. All three transcripts showed predominant expression in the intestine and liver, followed by the brain. Elongase expression showed differential nutritional regulation. Levels of elovl5b and particularly of elovl2, but not of elovl5a, transcripts were significantly increased in liver of salmon fed vegetable oils (VO) compared to fish fed fish oil (FO). Intestinal expression showed a similar pattern. Phylogenetic comparisons indicate that, in contrast to salmon and zebra fish, Acanthopterygian fish species lack elovl2 which is consistent with their negligible ability to biosynthesize LC-PUFA and to adapt to VO dietary inclusion, compared to predominantly freshwater salmonids. Thus, the presence of elovl2 in salmon explains the ability of this species to biosynthesize LC-PUFA and may provide a biotechnological tool to produce enhanced levels of LC-PUFA, particularly DHA, in transgenic organisms.


Highly unsaturated fatty acids Fatty acyl elongase Genes cDNA Atlantic salmon 



amino acid


arachidonic acid (20:4n-6)


docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3)


eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5n-3)


endoplasmic reticulum


fatty acid


fish oil


Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (carbon chain length ≥ C20 with ≥3 double bonds)


linseed oil


open reading frame


polyunsaturated fatty acids


quantitative (real-time) polymerase chain reaction


rapid amplification of cDNA ends


rapeseed oil


soybean oil


untranslated region


vegetable oil


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sofia Morais
    • 1
  • Oscar Monroig
    • 1
  • Xiaozhong Zheng
    • 1
  • Michael J. Leaver
    • 1
  • Douglas R. Tocher
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of AquacultureUniversity of StirlingStirlingUK

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