The structures of intestinal and liver fatty acid binding proteins (FABPs) have been determined from an analysis of the nucleotide sequences of cloned cDNAs. The primary translation product of intestinal FABP mRNA contains 132 residues (Mr = 15 124). Liver FABP mRNA encodes a 127 amino acid polypeptide (Mr = 14 273). In vitro co-translational cleavage and translocation assays showed that neither sequence has a cleavable signal peptide or signal peptide equivalent - suggesting that the FABPs do not enter the secretory apparatus but rather are targeted to the cytoplasm. A variety of computational techniques were used to compare the two FABP sequences. The results indicate that liver and intestinal FABP are paralogous homologues. A superfamily of proteins was defined which includes the FABPs, the cellular retinol and retinoic acid binding proteins, the P2 protein of peripheral nerve myelin, and a polypeptide known as 422 whose synthesis is induced during differentiation of 3T3-L1 cells to adipocytes. No sequence homologies were noted between any of these small molecular weight cytosolic proteins and nonspecific lipid transfer protein (sterol carrier protein 2), phosphatidylcholine transfer protein, serum albumin or apolipoprotein A1. The FABPs may have structural features responsible for lipid-protein interactions that are not present in these non-homologous sequences. The distribution of intestinal and liver FABP mRNAs in adult rat tissues and the changes in FABP gene expression which occur during gastrointestinal development support the notion that these proteins are involved in fatty acid uptake, transport and/or compartmentalization. However, differences in tissue distribution and periods of non-coordinate expression during gastrointestinal ontogeny suggest that the two FABPs have distinct functions. The relationship between intestinal and liver FABPs and similar sized cytosolic FABPs isolated from brain, skeletal and cardiac muscle remains unclear. Recombinant DNA techniques combined with comparative sequence analyses offer a useful approach for defining unique as well as general structure-function relationships in this group of fatty acid binding proteins.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-158
Number of pages22
JournalChemistry and Physics of Lipids
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Aug 30 1985


  • Fatty acid binding proteins
  • cDNA cloning
  • comparative sequence analyses
  • gene evolution and expression
  • lipid-protein interaction
  • protein compartmentalization


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