Kliniken &… Kliniken Zentrum für Innere… Innere Medizin IV:… Forschung AG Füllekrug AG Füllekrug

The Füllekrug Lab

Subcellular compartmentalization of lipid metabolism

The overall focus of our lab is the intracellular sorting of membrane proteins and lipids, and the functional role of subcellular localization in the trafficking and metabolism of lipids. We are interested in particular how proteins and lipids are interacting to organize the transport and metabolism of fatty acids during the biogenesis of lipid droplets.

Formation of lipid droplets is an essential function of all eukaryotic cells, and the regulation processes involved are highly relevant for the development of obesity and diabetes type II. Biogenesis of lipid droplets starts with the uptake and activation of fatty acids, and we have been characterizing the proteins involved, in particular enzymes of the fatty acyl-CoA synthetase family. 

Our model system are mammalian tissue culture cells which are manipulated by techniques of molecular biology, especially through the expression of mutated proteins designed to reveal functional aspects. We combine both microscopy and biochemistry for analysis. 


Wiss. Mitarbeiter/-innen

  • Frederik Bergler, M.Sc.

    Endothelial fatty acid transport and metabolism
    supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) FU 340/9-1

  • Wentao Mo, M. Sc.

    Perilipin-dependent lipid droplet biogenesis and turnover

  • Nis-Julius Sontag, MD-Student

    Relevance of Perilipins for Lipotoxicity

  • Wenyue Tian, M.Sc.

    Perilipin-3 mediated lipid droplet homeostasis and maturation
    supported by the Landesgraduiertenförderung (LGF) Baden-Württemberg

Open positions

Students of biochemistry (biology, chemistry, biomedicine) are welcome to join the lab for an experimental Master thesis

All research is relevant for the molecular mechanism of pathogenic processes. The technical approaches comprise molecular biology (cloning, mutagenesis, RNA interference), microscopy (immunofluorescence, GFP, confocal analysis), and biochemistry (uptake assays, subcellular fractionation). Interested? Please contact our group leader.


Lipid droplets emerge as dynamic intracellular organelles highly relevant for lipid homeostasis and the patho­physiology of metabolic diseases, but are not well studied. They consist of a hydrophobic core containing neutral lipids, which is surrounded by a phospholipid monolayer with embedded specific structural proteins and enzymes. It is not known how proteins, phospholipids and neutral lipids are transported to growing lipid droplets. The biogenesis of lipid droplets is dependent on lipid synthesis which in turn requires enzymes of the acyl-CoA synthetase family. Only one of these enzymes is physiologically localized on the surface of lipid droplets: ACSL3.

A neuronal splicing variant of ACSL4 is also found on lipid droplets when expressed heterogeneously. This is still enigmatic because neurons are generally assumed to be devoid of lipid droplets. The neuron-specific ACSL4 isoform is especially efficient in channeling fatty acids towards phosphatidylinositol.  

ACSL4 and phosphatidylinositol: Küch et al., 2014
ACSL3 on lipid droplets: Poppelreuther et al., 2012 
Lipid droplet review: Digel et al., 2010



Insulin does not only regulate glucose homeostasis and lipolysis of adipocytes, but also stimulates cellular fatty acid uptake. This has been ascribed to the insulin mediated translocation of fatty acid transporters to the plasma membrane. However we found that FATP4 is localized to the endoplasmic reticulum, regardless of the presence of insulin. Looking for an alternative explanation, we discovered that insulin increases the enzyme activity of FATP4. We propose that the increased enzyme activity of FATP4 leads to the intracellular metabolic trapping of fatty acids.

Insulin regulation of acyl-Co synthetase activity: Digel et al., 2011



Cellular uptake of lipids is of high medical relevance in the treatment of obesity, diabetes and atherosclerosis. Fatty acid transport proteins (FATPs) have been suggested to mediate the uptake of fatty acids across the plasma membrane of cells and this view has been adopted -unfortunately- by the majority of current textbooks.

Fatty acid transport protein 4 (FATP4) is expressed by the absorptive enterocytes of the intestine. We could recently show that FATP4 is a resident protein of the endoplasmic reticulum, ruling out a direct contribution to the uptake of fatty acids across the plasma membrane. The enzymatic activity of FATP4, enabling the esterification of long chain fatty acids to acyl-CoA, is the cause behind the correlation of FATP4 expression levels and the extent of fatty acid uptake (Milger et al., 2006). We think it very likely that our findings will also apply to the other FATP family proteins. We predict that the localization of FATP4 to the endoplasmic reticulum determines the preferential utilization of the generated acyl-CoAs towards triglyceride and phospholipid biosynthesis as opposed to mitochondrial ß-oxidation (Digel et al., 2008).

Metabolic channeling: Digel et al., 2008
Localization of FATP4: Milger et al., 2006
Press release: Textbook model challenged by Heidelberg scientists (in German)



Wilson's disease is characterized by the accumulation of copper in the liver, caused by a deficient biliary excretion. The genetic cause behind this disease is the functionally impaired ATPase ATP7B.

The subcellular localization of this membrane transporter is dependent on the intracellular copper concentration, reaching from the Golgi apparatus to yet unidentified vesicular structures close to the plasma membrane of hepatocytes. This trafficking step is essential for the excretion of copper across the canalicular membrane into the bile system. Our focus is the molecular mechanism of this copper dependent movement of ATP7B. Another protein identified as the genetic cause of canine copper toxicosis is Murr1 which we compared to the Wilson disease protein recently (Weiss et al., 2008b).

Intestinal ATP7B: Weiss et al., 2008a
Trafficking of ATP7B: Weiss et al., 2008b

Landesgraduiertenförderung (LGF) Baden-Württemberg

German Research Foundation (DFG)

Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung

Stiftung Nephrologie Heidelberg

Mobility Programme Heidelberg University