Plasmalogens and Phospholipids (B101)

Plasmalogens are required for proper membrane and nerve function and are found in high concentrations in the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and eyes. Low levels are linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. 

To access the FREE seminars with full presentations and videos please visit Dr. Goodenowe’s resource site here. This is the article for seminar B101, Blood Tests and Biomarkers (Series B).

Glycerophospholipids are the most abundant and most important class of lipids in the body. The body uses them to make and maintain the membranes of every cell in your body. They are also the primary storage reservoir for essential fatty acids. The three-carbon glycerol backbone is characterized by a sn-1 anchor fatty acid (i.e., palmitic (16:0), stearic (18:0), or oleic (18:1) acid), a sn-2 bioactive fatty acid (e.g., oleic (18:1), linoleic (18:2), arachidonic (20:4, AA), docosahexaenoic (22:6, DHA)), and a sn-3 polar head group (e.g., choline, ethanolamine, serine, inositol). 

The two most abundant and important types are phospholipids containing ethanolamine or choline as their polar head group. The main sources of ethanolamine and choline are from the diet. However, phosphatidylserine can be decarboxylated to phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) in the mitochondria and PE can be methylated to phosphatidylcholine (PC) in the endoplasmic reticulum and the mitochondria associated membrane. However, these metabolic processes are metabolically demanding so sufficient dietary ethanolamine and choline are essential. 

There are 2 types of ethanolamine and choline phospholipids – phosphatidyl and plasmalogen. They are differentiated by the type of sn-1 bond: ether bond = plasmalogen; fatty acid bond = phosphatidyl. The glycerol backbone and the components comprising all three of the glycerol positions in phosphatidyl phospholipids can be obtained from the diet. The glycerol backbone, the sn-1 ether bond, the sn-1 fatty alcohol, and the final vinyl ether bond in plasmalogen phospholipids must be synthesized in the body. Dietary sources of plasmalogens are degraded by stomach acids and poorly absorbed. 

Plasmalogens are required for proper membrane and nerve function and are found in high concentrations in the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and eyes and although every cell can make plasmalogens, they are mostly made in the liver. They make up as much as 20% of brain lipids. They are also the most important antioxidant and free radical scavengers in the body. The amount and composition of plasmalogens modulate the fluidity of membranes, especially in nerve cells. Low brain DHA-plasmalogens are associated with impaired cognitive status and higher DHA-plasmalogen levels are associated with lower incidence of dementia. 

My laboratory was the first to discover the relationship between low blood plasmalogens and Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and virtually all cancers. 

ProdromeScan measures total PE, PLE, PC, and PLC as well as the individual DHA containing species of these four phospholipid classes.  

Dr. Goodenowe explains the relevant research and literature regarding blood plasmalogen levels in seminar B101 – Plasmalogens and Phospholipids. 

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