The endoplasmic reticulum-resident protein TMEM-120/TMEM120A promotes fat storage in C. elegans and mammalian cells

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The synthesis of triacylglycerol (TAG) is essential for the storage of excess fatty acids, which can subsequently be used for energy or cell growth. A series of enzymes act in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) to synthesize TAG, prior to its transfer to lipid droplets (LDs), which are conserved organelles for fat storage. Here, we report that the deficiency of TMEM-120/TMEM120A, a protein with 6-transmembrane helices, retards TAG synthesis and LD expansion in C. elegans . A missense mutation near the predicted coenzyme A binding site of TMEM-120 confers strong loss of function phenotypes. GFP fusion proteins of TMEM-120, expressed at the endogenous level in live worms, were observed throughout the ER network. Using Stimulated Raman Scattering, we discovered a specific requirement of TMEM-120 in the storage of exogenous fatty acids in LDs. Knockdown of TMEM120A impedes adipogenesis of pre-adipocytes in vitro, while its over-expression is sufficient to promote LD expansion. Pharmacological studies indicate that TMEM120A most likely acts upstream of diacylglycerol O-acyltransferase 1 (DGAT1). Our results suggest that TMEM-120/TMEM120A plays a conserved role in increasing the efficiency of TAG synthesis.

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