Very long chain fatty acids (VLCFAs) are essential fatty acids with multiple functions, including ceramide synthesis. Although the components of the VLCFA biosynthetic machinery have been elucidated, how their activity is regulated to meet the cell’s metabolic demand remains unknown. The goal of this study was to identify mechanisms that regulate the rate of VLCFA synthesis, and we discovered that the fatty acid elongase Elo2 is regulated by phosphorylation. Elo2 phosphorylation is induced upon inhibition of TORC1 and requires GSK3. Expression of nonphosphorylatable Elo2 profoundly alters the ceramide spectrum, reflecting aberrant VLCFA synthesis. Furthermore, VLCFA depletion results in constitutive activation of autophagy, which requires sphingoid base phosphorylation. This constitutive activation of autophagy diminishes cell survival, indicating that VLCFAs serve to dampen the amplitude of autophagy. Together, our data reveal a function for TORC1 and GSK3 in the regulation of VLCFA synthesis that has important implications for autophagy and cell homeostasis.
A publication of Christine Zimmermann, Aline Santos, Kenneth Gable, Sharon Epstein, Charulatha Gururaj, Pierre Chymkowitch, Dennis Pultz, Steven V. Rødkær, Lorena Clay, Magnar Bjøra, Yves Barral, Amy Chang, Nils J. Færgeman, Teresa M. Dunn, Howard Riezman, and Jorrit M. Enserink.
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