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J Lipid Res. 1992 Sep;33(9):1255-67.

Saposins: structure, function, distribution, and molecular genetics.

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  • 1University of California, San Diego, Center for Molecular Genetics, School of Medicine, La Jolla 92093-0634.


Saposins A, B, C, and D are small heat-stable glycoproteins derived from a common precursor protein, prosaposin. These mature saposins, as well as prosaposin, activate several lysosomal hydrolases involved in the metabolism of various sphingolipids. All four saposins are structurally similar to one another including placement of six cysteines, a glycosylation site, and conserved prolines in identical positions. In spite of the structural similarities, the specificity and mode of activation of sphingolipid hydrolases differs among individual saposins. Saposins appear to be lysosomal proteins, exerting their action upon lysosomal hydrolases. Prosaposin is a 70 kDa glycoprotein containing four domains, one for each saposin, placed in tandem. Prosaposin is proteolytically processed to saposins A, B, C and D, apparently within lysosomes. However, prosaposin also exists as an integral membrane protein not destined for lysosomal entry and exists uncleaved in many biological fluids such as seminal plasma, human milk, and cerebrospinal fluid, where it appears to have a different function. The physiological significance of saposins is underlined by their accumulation in tissues of lysosomal storage disease patients and the occurrence of sphingolipidosis due to mutations in the prosaposin gene. This review presents an overview of the occurrence, structure and function of these saposin proteins.

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