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Chem Phys Lipids. 1999 Aug;101(1):109-21.

Biophysics of ceramide signaling: interaction with proteins and phase transition of membranes.

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Institute of Medical Microbiology and Hygiene, University of Cologne, Koln, Germany.


Ceramides have been implied in intracellular signal transduction systems regulating cellular differentiation, activation, survival and apoptosis and thus appear capable of changing the life style of virtually any cell type. Ceramide belongs to the group of sphingosine-based lipid second messenger molecules that are critically involved in the regulation of diverse cellular responses to exogenous stimuli. The emerging picture suggests that coupling of ceramide to specific signaling cascades is both stimulus and cell-type specific and depends on the subcellular topology of its production. However, little is understood about the molecular mode of ceramide action. In particular, in lieu of a defined ceramide binding motif it is not clear how ceramide would directly interact with putative target signaling proteins. This article proposes two modes of ceramide action. First, a protruding alkyl chain of ceramide may interact with a hydrophobic cavity of a signaling protein providing a lipid anchor to attach proteins to membranes. Second, the generation of ceramide generally increases the volume of hydrocarbon chains within the lipid bilayer thereby enhancing its propensity of to form a hexagonal II phase (Hex II). Besides the generation of a hydrophobic interaction site for proteins local hexagonal phase II formation can also change the membrane fluidity and permeability, which may impinge on membrane fusion processes, solubilization of detergent-resistant signaling rafts, or membrane receptor internalization. Thus, ceramide production by sphingomyelinases (SMase) can play a pivotal signaling role through direct interaction with signaling proteins or through facilitating the formation and trafficking of signal transduction complexes.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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