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Outlining eicosanoid biosynthesis in the crustacean Daphnia

Lars-Henrik Heckmann12*, Richard M Sibly1, Martijn JTN Timmermans3 and Amanda Callaghan1

  • * Corresponding author: Lars-Henrik Heckmann

Author Affiliations

1 University of Reading, School of Biological Sciences, Environmental Biology, PO Box 68, Reading, RG6 6BX, UK

2 University of Aarhus, National Environmental Research Institute, Department of Terrestrial Ecology, Vejlsøvej 25, PO Box 314, DK-8600, Silkeborg, Denmark

3 VU University Amsterdam, Institute of Ecological Science, Department of Animal Ecology, De Boelelaan 1085, 1081 HV, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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Frontiers in Zoology 2008, 5:11  doi:10.1186/1742-9994-5-11

Published: 14 July 2008



Eicosanoids are biologically active, oxygenated metabolites of three C20 polyunsaturated fatty acids. They act as signalling molecules within the autocrine or paracrine system in both vertebrates and invertebrates mainly functioning as important mediators in reproduction, the immune system and ion transport. The biosynthesis of eicosanoids has been intensively studied in mammals and it is known that they are synthesised from the fatty acid, arachidonic acid, through either the cyclooxygenase (COX) pathway; the lipoxygenase (LOX) pathway; or the cytochrome P450 epoxygenase pathway. However, little is still known about the synthesis and structure of the pathway in invertebrates.


Here, we show transcriptomic evidence from Daphnia magna (Crustacea: Branchiopoda) together with a bioinformatic analysis of the D. pulex genome providing insight on the role of eicosanoids in these crustaceans as well as outlining a putative pathway of eicosanoid biosynthesis. Daphnia appear only to have one copy of the gene encoding the key enzyme COX, and phylogenetic analysis reveals that the predicted protein sequence of Daphnia COX clusters with other invertebrates. There is no current evidence of an epoxygenase pathway in Daphnia; however, LOX products are most certainly synthesised in daphnids.


We have outlined the structure of eicosanoid biosynthesis in Daphnia, a key genus in freshwater ecosystems. Improved knowledge of the function and synthesis of eicosanoids in Daphnia and other invertebrates could have important implications for several areas within ecology. This provisional overview of daphnid eicosanoid biosynthesis provides a guide on where to focus future research activities in this area.