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They result from partial hydrolysis of phosphatidylcholines, which removes one of the fatty acid groups. The hydrolysis is generally the result of the enzymatic action of phospholipase A2. Among other properties, they activate endothelial cells during early atherosclerosis and stimulate phagocyte recruitment when released by apoptotic cells. Moreover, LPCs can be used in the lab to cause demyelination of brain slices, to mimic the effects of demyelinating diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Further, they are known to stimulate phagocytosis of the myelin sheath and can change the surface properties of erythrocytes. LPC-induced demyelination is thought to occur through the actions of recruited macrophages and microglia which phagocytose nearby myelin. Invading T cells are also thought to mediate this process. Bacteria such as Legionella pneumophila utilize phospholipase A2 end-products (fatty acids and lysophospholipids) to cause host cell (macrophage) apoptosis through cytochrome C release.
LPCs are present as minor phospholipids in the cell membrane (≤ 3%) and in the blood plasma (8–12%). Since LPCs are quickly metabolized by lysophospholipase and LPC-acyltransferase, they last only shortly in vivo. By replacing the acyl-group within the LPC with an alkyl-group, alkyl-lysophospholipids (ALP) were synthesized. These LPC analogues are metabolically stable, and several such as edelfosine, miltefosine and perifosine are under research and development as drugs against cancer and other diseases. Lysophosphatidylcholine processing has been discovered to be an essential component of normal human brain development: those born with genes that prevent adequate uptake suffer from lethal microcephaly.
LPCs occur in many foods naturally. In Starch: Chemistry and Technology third edition on page 592, the authors state that "lysophosphatidylcholine makes up about 70% of the lipids in oat starch".
The anti-cancer abilities of synthetic LPC variants are special since they do not target the cell DNA but insert into the plasma membrane and cause apoptosis through influencing several signal pathways. Therefore, their effects are independent of the proliferation state of the tumor cell.
Other names for phosphatidylcholine in food, products, and industry
Lysolecithin is a name used prior to the 1980s that was lost and now is found as lysophosphatidylcholine. In addition to several other names lysolecithin / lysophosphatidylcholine is also called hydrolyzed lecithin or hydrolysed lecithin or enzyme-modified lecithin. It is often shortened to LPC or lysoPC. The demyelinating effects of lysolecithin / lysophosphatidylcholine occur through topical application and injection.
Lysophosphatidylcholine could be the lost link in the multiple sclerosis controversy between the neurologists and the vascular surgeons since lysophosphatidylcholine has a twofold inflammation effect – lysophosphatidylcholine causes lesions on the central nervous system and lysophosphatidylcholine causes vasoconstriction in the venous system. More is discussed below concerning possible diseases related to excessive intake of lysophosphatidylcholine. If one has sclerosis or venous occlusion then one may want to try removing all sources of lysophosphatidylcholine as seen in these foods and products.
In the Biochemistry of Foods, Peter Eck explains recombinant DNA technologies in food. Pages 543–545 explain the use of glycerophospholipid cholesterol acyltransferase and the reaction products which are lysophospholipids. He states that "the enzyme preparation is used in egg yolk and whole eggs, in processed meats, in degumming of vegetable oils, in milk products such as cheese, and in bakery products containing eggs, such as cake products". Then he lists each one and that in milk, the enzyme produces lysophospholipids from the phospholipids. He further explains that the enzyme preparation converts phospholipids to lysophospholipids in each of the above areas. Lysophosphatidylcholine is a lysophospholipid. This is significant and shows that there are unnaturally high amounts of lysophosphatidylcholine in enzyme-modified foods.
Foods and products with unnaturally high quantities of lysophosphatidylcholine
Modified coconut oil has high levels of lysophosphatidylcholine; to see that naturally phosphatidylcholine is 34 percent of lipids in coconut oil and lysophosphatidylcholine is only four percent. Once modified though, all that phosphatidylcholine could become hydrolyzed and be lysophosphatidylcholine – a demyelinating toxin. In 2012, there was a lot said about modified coconut oil’s benefits for tooth brushing. Another use for lysophosphatidylcholine is as an immune activator in vaccines.
There is an unexplained link between smoking tobacco and poor multiple sclerosis outcome. One paper suggests a link between smoking and circulating lysoPC., which may have a detrimental impact on overall health.
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