Cleavage sites of phospholipases. Phospholipase C enzymes cut just before the phosphate attached to the R3 moiety.

Phospholipase C (PLC) is a class of membrane-associated enzymes that cleave phospholipids just before the phosphate group (see figure). It is most commonly taken to be synonymous with the human forms of this enzyme, which play an important role in eukaryotic cell physiology, in particular signal transduction pathways. Phospholipase C's role in signal transduction is its cleavage of phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate (PIP2) into diacyl glycerol (DAG) and inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate (IP3), which serve as second messengers. Activators of each PLC vary, but typically include heterotrimeric G protein subunits, protein tyrosine kinases, small G proteins, Ca2+, and phospholipids.[1]

There are thirteen kinds of mammalian phospholipase C that are classified into six isotypes (β, γ, δ, ε, ζ, η) according to structure. Each PLC has unique and overlapping controls over expression and subcellular distribution.

Phospholipase C
EC no.
CAS no.9001-86-9
IntEnzIntEnz view
ExPASyNiceZyme view
MetaCycmetabolic pathway
PDB structuresRCSB PDB PDBe PDBsum
Gene OntologyAmiGO / QuickGO


Mammalian variants

The extensive number of functions exerted by the PLC reaction requires that it be strictly regulated and able to respond to multiple extra- and intracellular inputs with appropriate kinetics. This need has guided the evolution of six isotypes of PLC in animals, each with a distinct mode of regulation. The pre-mRNA of PLC can also be subject to differential splicing such that a mammal may have up to 30 PLC enzymes.[2]

Bacterial variants

Most of the bacterial variants of phospholipase C are characterized into one of four groups of structurally related proteins. The toxic phospholipases C are capable of interacting with eukaryotic cell membranes and hydrolyzing phosphatidylcholine and sphingomyelin, ultimately leading to cell lysis.[3]

Enzyme structure

Comparison of C2 domain of mammalian PI-PLC in red and C2-like domain of Bacillus cereus in cyan

In mammals, PLCs share a conserved core structure and differ in other domains specific to each family. The core enzyme includes a split triosephosphate isomerase (TIM) barrel, pleckstrin homology (PH) domain, four tandem EF hand domains, and a C2 domain.[1] The TIM barrel contains the active site, all catalytic residues, and a Ca2+ binding site. It has an autoinhibitory insert that interrupts its activity called an X-Y linker. The X-Y linker has been shown to occlude the active site, and with its removal, PLC is activated.[4]

The genes encoding alpha-toxin (Clostridium perfringens), Bacillus cereus PLC (BC-PLC), and PLCs from Clostridium bifermentans and Listeria monocytogenes have been isolated and nucleotides sequenced. The sequences have significant homology, approximately 250 residues, from the N-terminus. Alpha-toxin has an additional 120 residues in the C-terminus. The C-terminus of the alpha-toxin has been reported as a "C2-like" domain, referencing the C2 domain found in eukaryotes that are involved in signal transduction and present in mammalian phosphoinositide phospholipase C.[5]

Enzyme mechanism

General reaction catalyzed by phospholipase C

The primary catalyzed reaction of PLC occurs on an insoluble substrate at a lipid-water interface. The residues in the active site are conserved in all PLC isotypes. In animals, PLC selectively catalyzes the hydrolysis of the phospholipid phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate (PIP2) on the glycerol side of the phosphodiester bond. There is the formation of a weakly enzyme-bound intermediate, inositol 1,2-cyclic phosphodiester, and release of diacylglycerol (DAG). The intermediate is then hydrolyzed to inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate (IP3).[6] Thus the two end products are DAG and IP3. The acid/base catalysis requires two conserved histidine residues and a Ca2+ ion is needed for PIP2 hydrolysis. It has been observed that the active-site Ca2+ coordinates with four acidic residues and if any of the residues are mutated then a greater Ca2+ concentration is needed for catalysis.[7]



Receptors that activate this pathway are mainly G protein-coupled receptors coupled to the Gαq subunit, including:

Other, minor, activators than Gαq are:


Biological function

PLC mediated cleavage of PIP2 to DAG and IP3

PLC cleaves the phospholipid phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate (PIP2) into diacyl glycerol (DAG) and inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate (IP3). Thus PLC has a profound impact on the depletion of PIP2, which acts as a membrane anchor or allosteric regulator and an agonist for many lipid-gated ion channels.[20][21] PIP2 also acts as the substrate for synthesis of the rarer lipid phosphatidylinositol 3,4,5-trisphosphate (PIP3), which is responsible for signaling in multiple reactions.[22] Therefore, PIP2 depletion by the PLC reaction is critical to the regulation of local PIP3 concentrations both in the plasma membrane and the nuclear membrane.

The two products of the PLC catalyzed reaction, DAG and IP3, are important second messengers that control diverse cellular processes and are substrates for synthesis of other important signaling molecules. When PIP2 is cleaved, DAG remains bound to the membrane, and IP3 is released as a soluble structure into the cytosol. IP3 then diffuses through the cytosol to bind to IP3 receptors, particularly calcium channels in the smooth endoplasmic reticulum (ER). This causes the cytosolic concentration of calcium to increase, causing a cascade of intracellular changes and activity.[23] In addition, calcium and DAG together work to activate protein kinase C, which goes on to phosphorylate other molecules, leading to altered cellular activity.[23] End-effects include taste, tumor promotion, as well as vesicle exocytosis, superoxide production from NADPH oxidase, and JNK activation.[23][24]

Both DAG and IP3 are substrates for the synthesis of regulatory molecules. DAG is the substrate for the synthesis of phosphatidic acid, a regulatory molecule. IP3 is the rate-limiting substrate for the synthesis of inositol polyphosphates, which stimulate multiple protein kinases, transcription, and mRNA processing.[25] Regulation of PLC activity is thus vital to the coordination and regulation of other enzymes of pathways that are central to the control of cellular physiology.

Further information: Calcium function in vertebrates and Function of protein kinase C

Additionally, phospholipase C plays an important role in the inflammation pathway. The binding of agonists such as thrombin, epinephrine, or collagen, to platelet surface receptors can trigger the activation of phospholipase C to catalyze the release of arachidonic acid from two major membrane phospholipids, phosphatidylinositol and phosphatidylcholine. Arachidonic acid can then go on into the cyclooxygenase pathway (producing prostoglandins (PGE1, PGE2, PGF2), prostacyclins (PGI2), or thromboxanes (TXA2)), and the lipoxygenase pathway (producing leukotrienes (LTB4, LTC4, LTD4, LTE4)).[26]

The bacterial variant Clostridium perfringens type A produces alpha-toxin. The toxin has phospholipase C activity, and causes hemolysis, lethality, and dermonecrosis. At high concentrations, alpha-toxin induces massive degradation of phosphatidylcholine and sphingomyelin, producing diacylglycerol and ceramide, respectively. These molecules then participate in signal transduction pathways.[5] It has been reported that the toxin activates the arachidonic acid cascade in isolated rat aorta.[27] The toxin-induced contraction was related to generation of thromboxane A2 from arachidonic acid. Thus it is likely the bacterial PLC mimics the actions of endogenous PLC in eukaryotic cell membranes.

See also


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