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J Biol Chem. 2003 Oct 3;278(40):38528-36. Epub 2003 Jul 28.

Identification of human intestinal alkaline sphingomyelinase as a novel ecto-enzyme related to the nucleotide phosphodiesterase family.

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  • 1Gastroenterology Laboratory, Biomedical Center, B11, Lund University, S-221 84 Lund, Sweden.


Alkaline sphingomyelinase (alk-SMase) hydrolyzes dietary sphingomyelin and generates sphingolipid messengers in the gut. In the present study, we purified the enzyme, identified a part of the amino acid sequence, and found a cDNA in the GenBank coding for the protein. The cDNA contains 1841 bp, and the open reading frame encodes 458 amino acids. Transient expression of the cDNA linked to a Myc tag in COS-7 cells increased alk-SMase activity in the cell extract by 689-fold and in the medium by 27-fold. High activity was also identified in the anti-Myc immunoprecipitated proteins and the proteins cross-reacted with anti-human alk-SMase. Northern blotting of human intestinal tissues found high levels of alk-SMase mRNA in the intestine and liver. The amino acid sequence shared no similarity with acid and neutral SMases but was related to the ecto-nucleotide phosphodiesterase (NPP) family with 30-36% identity to human NPPs. Alk-SMase has a predicted signal peptide domain at the N terminus and a signal anchor domain at the C terminus. The ion-binding sites and the catalytic residue of NPPs were conserved, but the substrate specificity domain was modified. Alk-SMase had no detectable nucleotidase activity, but its activity against sphingomyelin could be inhibited by orthovanadate, imidazole, and ATP. In contrast to NPPs, alk-SMase activity was not stimulated by divalent metal ions but inhibited by Zn2+. Differing from NPP2, the alk-SMase cleaved phosphocholine but not choline from lysophosphatidylcholine. Phylogenetic tree indicated that the enzyme is a new branch derived from the NPP family. Two cDNA sequences of mouse and rat that shared 83% identity to human alk-SMase were identified in the GenBank. In conclusion, we identified the amino acid and cDNA sequences of human intestinal alk-SMase, and found that it is a novel ecto-enzyme related to the NPP family with specific features essential for its SMase activity.

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