Lipid Droplet Fusion in Mammary Epithelial Cells is Regulated by Phosphatidylethanolamine Metabolism

Bat Chen Cohen*, Chen Raz, Avi Shamay, Nurit Argov-Argaman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Mammary epithelial cells (MEC) secrete fat in the form of milk fat globules (MFG) which are found in milk in diverse sizes. MFG originate from intracellular lipid droplets, and the mechanism underlying their size regulation is still elusive. Two main mechanisms have been suggested to control lipid droplet size. The first is a well-documented pathway, which involves regulation of cellular triglyceride content. The second is the fusion pathway, which is less-documented, especially in mammalian cells, and its importance in the regulation of droplet size is still unclear. Using biochemical and molecular inhibitors, we provide evidence that in MEC, lipid droplet size is determined by fusion, independent of cellular triglyceride content. The extent of fusion is determined by the cell membrane’s phospholipid composition. In particular, increasing phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) content enhances fusion between lipid droplets and hence increases lipid droplet size. We further identified the underlying biochemical mechanism that controls this content as the mitochondrial enzyme phosphatidylserine decarboxylase; siRNA knockdown of this enzyme reduced the number of large lipid droplets threefold. Further, inhibition of phosphatidylserine transfer to the mitochondria, where its conversion to PE occurs, diminished the large lipid droplet phenotype in these cells. These results reveal, for the first time to our knowledge in mammalian cells and specifically in mammary epithelium, the missing biochemical link between the metabolism of cellular complex lipids and lipid-droplet fusion, which ultimately defines lipid droplet size.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)235-249
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Mammary Gland Biology and Neoplasia
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • Fusion
  • Lipid droplet
  • Mammary epithelial cell
  • Phosphatidylethanolamine


Dive into the research topics of 'Lipid Droplet Fusion in Mammary Epithelial Cells is Regulated by Phosphatidylethanolamine Metabolism'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this