2-Hydroxysphingolipids are a subset of sphingolipids containing 2-hydroxy fatty acids. The 2-hydroxylation occurs during de novo ceramide synthesis and is catalyzed by fatty acid 2-hydroxylase (also known as fatty acid alpha-hydroxylase). In mammals, 2-hydroxysphingolipids are present abundantly in brain because the major myelin lipids galactosylceramides and sulfatides contain 2-hydroxy fatty acids. Here we report identification and characterization of a human gene that encodes a fatty acid 2-hydroxylase. Data base searches revealed a human homologue of the yeast ceramide 2-hydroxylase gene (FAH1), which we named FA2H. The FA2H gene encodes a 372-amino acid protein with 36% identity and 46% similarity to yeast Fah1p. The amino acid sequence indicates that FA2H protein contains an N-terminal cytochrome b5 domain and four potential transmembrane domains. FA2H also contains the iron-binding histidine motif conserved among membrane-bound desaturases/hydroxylases. COS7 cells expressing human FA2H contained 3-20-fold higher levels of 2-hydroxyceramides (C16, C18, C24, and C24:1) and 2-hydroxy fatty acids compared with control cells. Microsomal fractions prepared from transfected COS7 cells showed tetracosanoic acid 2-hydroxylase activities in an NADPH- and NADPH: cytochrome P-450 reductase-dependent manner. FA2H lacking the N-terminal cytochrome b5 domain had little activity, indicating that this domain is a functional component of this enzyme. Northern blot analysis showed that the FA2H gene is highly expressed in brain and colon tissues. These results demonstrate that the human FA2H gene encodes a fatty acid 2-hydroxylase. FA2H is likely involved in the formation of myelin 2-hydroxy galactosylceramides and -sulfatides.
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