Natural vitamin E comprises 8 different analogues, the alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocopherols and the alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocotrienols. However, only alpha-tocopherol is selectively enriched by the liver; the other vitamin E analogues and also excess alpha-tocopherol are converted to several metabolites and eliminated. Recently, a novel phosphorylated form of tocopherol, alpha-tocopheryl phosphate, was shown to occur naturally in animal and human tissues as well as in foods. Several synthetic vitamin E derivatives have been synthesized that are either converted by esterases to the natural form, or exert novel or vitamin E related biological activities. During the last years, specific cellular effects for each individual vitamin E analogue have been described that are the consequence of modulating signal transduction and gene expression. These effects possibly reflect specific interactions of each of the vitamin E analogues with enzymes, structural proteins, lipids and transcription factors. In this review, the different natural vitamin E analogues and synthetic derivatives are compiled in relation to their major molecular and cellular activities.

Human cytochrome P450 4F2 (CYP4F2) catalyzes the initial omega-hydroxylation reaction in the metabolism of tocopherols and tocotrienols to carboxychromanols and is, to date, the only enzyme shown to metabolize vitamin E. The objective of this study was to characterize this activity, particularly the influence of key features of tocochromanol substrate structure. The influence of the number and positions of methyl groups on the chromanol ring, and of stereochemistry and saturation of the side chain, were explored using HepG2 cultures and microsomal reaction systems. Human liver microsomes and microsomes selectively expressing recombinant human CYP4F2 exhibited substrate activity patterns similar to those of HepG2 cells. Although activity was strongly associated with substrate accumulation by cells or microsomes, substantial differences in specific activities between substrates remained under conditions of similar microsomal membrane substrate concentration. Methylation at C5 of the chromanol ring was associated with markedly low activity. Tocotrienols exhibited much higher Vmax values than their tocopherol counterparts. Side chain stereochemistry had no effect on omega-hydroxylation of alpha-tocopherol (alpha-TOH) by any system. Kinetic analysis of microsomal CYP4F2 activity revealed Michaelis-Menten kinetics for alpha-TOH but allosteric cooperativity for other vitamers, especially tocotrienols. Additionally, alpha-TOH was a positive effector of omega-hydroxylation of other vitamers. These results indicate that CYP4F2-mediated tocopherol-omega-hydroxylation is a central feature underlying the different biological half-lives, and therefore biopotencies, of the tocopherols and tocotrienols.

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