Quantitative analysis of lipid droplet fusion: Inefficient steady state fusion but rapid stimulation by chemical fusogens

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Abstract

Lipid droplets (LDs) are dynamic cytoplasmic organelles containing neutral lipids and bounded by a phospholipid monolayer. Previous studies have suggested that LDs can undergo constitutive homotypic fusion, a process linked to the inhibitory effects of fatty acids on glucose transporter trafficking. Using strict quantitative criteria for LD fusion together with refined light microscopic methods and real-time analysis, we now show that LDs in diverse cell types show low constitutive fusogenic activity under normal growth conditions. To investigate the possible modulation of LD fusion, we screened for agents that can trigger fusion. A number of pharmacological agents caused homotypic fusion of lipid droplets in a variety of cell types. This provided a novel cell system to study rapid regulated fusion between homotypic phospholipid monolayers. LD fusion involved an initial step in which the two adjacent membranes became continuous (<10 s), followed by the slower merging (100 s) of the neutral lipid cores to produce a single spherical LD. These fusion events were accompanied by changes to the LD surface organization. Measurements of LDs undergoing homotypic fusion showed that fused LDs maintained their initial volume, with a corresponding decrease in surface area suggesting rapid removal of membrane from the fused LD. This study provides estimates for the level of constitutive LD fusion in cells and questions the role of LD fusion in vivo. In addition, it highlights the extent of LD restructuring which occurs when homotypic LD fusion is triggered in a variety of cell types.

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Murphy, S., Martin, S., & Parton, R. G. (2010). Quantitative analysis of lipid droplet fusion: Inefficient steady state fusion but rapid stimulation by chemical fusogens. PLoS ONE, 5(12). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0015030

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