Control of membrane fluidity: the OLE pathway in focus

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The maintenance of a fluid lipid bilayer is key for membrane integrity and cell viability. We are only beginning to understand how eukaryotic cells sense and maintain the characteristic lipid compositions and bulk membrane properties of their organelles. One of the key factors determining membrane fluidity and phase behavior is the proportion of saturated and unsaturated acyl chains in membrane lipids. Saccharomyces cerevisiae is an ideal model organism to study the regulation of the lipid acyl chain composition via the OLE pathway. The OLE pathway comprises all steps involved in the regulated mobilization of the transcription factors Mga2 and Spt23 from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), which then drive the expression of OLE1 in the nucleus. OLE1 encodes for the essential Δ9-fatty acid desaturase Ole1 and is crucial for de novo biosynthesis of unsaturated fatty acids (UFAs) that are used as lipid building blocks. This review summarizes our current knowledge of the OLE pathway, the best-characterized, eukaryotic sense-and-control system regulating membrane lipid saturation, and identifies open questions to indicate future directions.

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