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J Biol Chem. 2010 Sep 17;285(38):29179-90. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M110.123422. Epub 2010 Jul 16.

Neobiosynthesis of glycosphingolipids by plasma membrane-associated glycosyltransferases.

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  • 1Centro de Investigaciones en Química Biológica de Córdoba (CIQUIBIC, UNC-CONICET), Departamento de Química Biológica, Facultad de Ciencias Químicas, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Córdoba X5000HUA, Argentina.


Gangliosides, complex glycosphingolipids containing sialic acids, are synthesized in the endoplasmic reticulum and in the Golgi complex. These neobiosynthesized gangliosides move via vesicular transport to the plasma membrane, becoming components of the external leaflet. Gangliosides can undergo endocytosis followed by recycling to the cell surface or sorting to the Golgi complex or lysosomes for remodeling and catabolism. Recently, glycosphingolipid catabolic enzymes (glycohydrolases) have been found to be associated with the plasma membrane, where they display activity on the membrane components. In this work, we demonstrated that ecto-ganglioside glycosyltransferases may catalyze ganglioside synthesis outside the Golgi compartment, particularly at the cell surface. Specifically, we report the first direct evidence of expression and activity of CMP-NeuAc:GM3 sialyltransferase (Sial-T2) at the cell surface of epithelial and melanoma cells, with membrane-integrated ecto-Sial-T2 being able to sialylate endogenously synthesized GM3 ganglioside as well as exogenously incorporated substrate. Interestingly, we also showed that ecto-Sial-T2 was able to synthesize GD3 ganglioside at the cell surface using the endogenously synthesized cytidine monophospho-N-acetylneuraminic acid (CMP-NeuAc) available at the extracellular milieu. In addition, the expression of UDP-GalNAc:LacCer/GM3/GD3 N-acetylgalactosaminyltransferase (GalNAc-T) was also detected at the cell surface of epithelial cells, whose catalytic activity was only observed after feeding the cells with exogenous GM3 substrate. Thus, the relative interplay between the plasma membrane-associated glycosyltransferase and glycohydrolase activities, even when acting on a common substrate, emerges as a potential level of regulation of the local glycosphingolipid composition in response to different external and internal stimuli.

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