The essential fatty acid 22:6(n-3) is a minor component of the Western diet, but a major fatty acid in human testis and semen. In mature spermatozoa, the physical and fusogenic properties of the plasma membrane are probably influenced by its particular fatty acid composition. In this study, the synthesis of 22:6(n-3) and 22:5(n-6) was investigated in isolated human testicular cells. [1-(14)C]20:4(n-6), [1-(14)C]20:5(n-3), [1-(14)C]22:4(n-6) and [1-(14)C]22:5(n-3) were incubated in a 'crude' cell suspension (consisting of a mixture of the cells in the seminiferous tubule), and in fractionated pachytene spermatocytes and round spermatids. The esterification of fatty acids in lipid and phospholipid classes and the fatty acid chain elongation and desaturation were measured. The crude cell suspension metabolized the fatty acids more actively than did the fractionated germ cell suspension, indicating that types of cell other than the germ cells are important for fatty acid elongation and desaturation and thus the production of 22:6(n-3). This finding is in agreement with previous results in rats that indicated that the Sertoli cells are the most important type of cell for the metabolism of essential fatty acids in the testis. Some [1-(14)C]20:5(n-3) was elongated to [(14)C]22:5(n-3) in the fractionated germ cells, but very little was elongated further to [(14)C]24:5(n-3),possibly restricting the formation of [(14)C]22:6(n-3). In the fractionated germ cells, the fatty acid substrates were recovered primarily in the phospholipid fraction, indicating an incorporation in the membranes, whereas in the crude cells, more substrates were esterified in the triacylglycerol fraction. In the phospholipids, more radioactivity was recovered in phosphatidylcholine than in phosphatidylethanolamine and more radioactivity was recovered in phosphatidylethanolamine than in phosphatidylinositol or phosphatidylserine.
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