Elongation of very long chain fatty acids 4 (ELOVL4) is a novel member of the ELO family of genes that are involved in fatty acid metabolism. ELOVL4 encodes a putative transmembrane protein of 314 amino acids that carries a possible endoplasmic reticulum (ER) retention/retrieval signal (KXKXX) at the C-terminus. Two distinct mutations, a 5-bp deletion and a complex mutation from the same region in exon 6 of this gene, have been reported so far and are associated with autosomal dominant atrophic macular degeneration (adMD/STGD3). Both of these deletions could result in C-terminal truncation and loss of the ER retention signal in the mutant protein. We expressed the wild-type and mutant proteins in COS-7 and CHO cells to study the intracellular distribution of ELOVL4 and to identify possible implications of the above mutations in its localization. Immunofluorescence analysis of these proteins along with organelle marker antibodies revealed predominant ER localization for wild-type ELOVL4. Targeted deletion of the dilysine motif at the C-terminus of the protein resulted in the loss of ER localization. Immunoelectron microscopy and immunofluorescence analysis revealed a similar ER localization pattern for the protein in human photoreceptors. These data indicate that ELOVL4 is an ER-resident protein, which supports its suggested function in fatty acid elongation. We also demonstrate that the localization of both mutant proteins was dramatically changed from an ER to a Golgi distribution. Our observations suggest that the consequences of defective protein trafficking could underlie the molecular mechanism associated with degeneration of the macula in the patients with adMD/STGD3.
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