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Biochemistry. 1999 Nov 2;38(44):14676-82.

Exchange of C(16)-ceramide between phospholipid vesicles.

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National Institute of Standards and Technology, Polymers Division, 100 Bureau Drive, Gaithersburg, Maryland 20899, USA.


Ceramide is considered to be an important signaling molecule in cellular processes such as cell growth, secretion, differentiation, and apoptosis. This implies that the molecule is able to move between cellular membranes. However, the ability of the molecule to undergo such exchange has been largely ignored despite the profound impact that this ability would have on its mechanism of action in signal-transduction cascades. With this in mind, the ability of a long-chain, radioactive ceramide, (14)C-C(16)-ceramide, to exchange between populations of lipid vesicles was evaluated. The rate of exchange of (14)C-C(16)-ceramide between lipid vesicles at lipid concentrations commonly found in cells (10-110 mM) was on the order of days (t(1/2) of 45-109 h). Simultaneous observations revealed negligible exchange of (3)H-cholesteryl oleate, which was included as a nontransferable marker to control for artifacts such as vesicle fusion and aggregation. In addition, all of the ceramide was exchangeable, and the exchange followed monoexponential kinetics, indicating that the ceramide underwent transbilayer movement at a rate faster than or equal to its rate of intervesicle exchange. Two conclusions can be drawn from these observations: (i) the spontaneous transfer of ceramide between cellular membranes is too slow to play a role in rapid, inter-membrane signaling phenomena and can only be a factor in cell functions that take place over days; and (ii) without the aid of an exchange protein, ceramide can only interact with target molecules that are located at the membrane where the ceramide is formed.

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