Phosphatidylcholine (PC) and phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) are the most abundant phospholipids in all mammalian cell membranes. In the 1950s, Eugene Kennedy and co-workers performed groundbreaking research that established the general outline of many of the pathways of phospholipid biosynthesis. In recent years, the importance of phospholipid metabolism in regulating lipid, lipoprotein and whole-body energy metabolism has been demonstrated in numerous dietary studies and knockout animal models. The purpose of this review is to highlight the unappreciated impact of phospholipid metabolism on health and disease. Abnormally high, and abnormally low, cellular PC/PE molar ratios in various tissues can influence energy metabolism and have been linked to disease progression. For example, inhibition of hepatic PC synthesis impairs very low density lipoprotein secretion and changes in hepatic phospholipid composition have been linked to fatty liver disease and impaired liver regeneration after surgery. The relative abundance of PC and PE regulates the size and dynamics of lipid droplets. In mitochondria, changes in the PC/PE molar ratio affect energy production. We highlight data showing that changes in the PC and/or PE content of various tissues are implicated in metabolic disorders such as atherosclerosis, insulin resistance and obesity. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Membrane Lipid Therapy: Drugs Targeting Biomembranes edited by Pablo V. Escribá.
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