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Biochem J. 2003 May 1;371(Pt 3):1013-9.

The mitochondria-associated endoplasmic-reticulum subcompartment (MAM fraction) of rat liver contains highly active sphingolipid-specific glycosyltransferases.

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  • 1INSERM U 189, Department of Biochemistry, Lyon-Sud Medical School, B.P.12, 69921 Oullins Cedex, France.


Although most glycosphingolipids (GSLs) are thought to be located in the outer leaflet of the plasma membrane, recent evidence indicates that GSLs and their precursor, ceramide, are also associated with intracellular organelles and, particularly, mitochondria. GSL biosynthesis starts with the formation of ceramide in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), which is transported by controversial mechanisms to the Golgi apparatus, where stepwise addition of monosaccharides on to ceramides takes place. We now report the presence of GSL-biosynthetic enzymes in a subcompartment of the ER previously characterized and termed 'mitochondria-associated membrane' (MAM). MAM is a membrane bridge between the ER and mitochondria that is involved in the biosynthesis and trafficking of phospholipids between the two organelles. Using exogenous acceptors coated on silica gel, we demonstrate the presence of ceramide glucosyltransferase (Cer-Glc-T), glucosylceramide galactosyltransferase and sialyltransferase (SAT) activities in the MAM. Estimation of the marker-enzyme activities showed that glycosyltransferase activities could not be ascribed to cross-contamination of MAM by Golgi membranes. Cer-Glc-T was found to have a marked preference for ceramide bearing phytosphingosine as sphingoid base. SAT activities in MAM led to the synthesis of G(M3) ganglioside and small amounts of G(D3). G(M1) was also synthesized along with G(M3) upon incubation of the fraction with exogenous unlabelled G(M3), underlying the presence of other sphingolipid-specific glycosyltransferases in MAM. On the basis of our results, we propose MAM as a privileged compartment in providing GSLs for mitochondria.

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