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J Lipid Res. 2003 Aug;44(8):1574-80. Epub 2003 Jun 1.

Sphingomyelinase D, a novel probe for cellular sphingomyelin: effects on cholesterol homeostasis in human skin fibroblasts.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Rush Medical College, Chicago, IL 60612, USA.


Sphingomyelin (SM) and free cholesterol (FC) are concentrated in the plasma membranes of eukaryotes; however, the physiological significance of their association is unclear. A common tool for studying the role of membrane SM is digestion with bacterial sphingomyelinase (SMase) C, which hydrolyzes SM to ceramide. However, it is not known whether the observed effects of SMase C treatment are due to the loss of SM per se or to the signaling effects of ceramide. In this study, we tested SMase D from Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis, which hydrolyzes SM to ceramide phosphate, as an alternative probe. This enzyme specifically hydrolyzed SM in fibroblasts without causing accumulation of ceramide. Treatment of fibroblasts with SMase D stimulated translocation of PM FC to intracellular sites by <20% of the rate observed after SMase C digestion. The cells regenerated SM nearly completely within 5 h after SMase C treatment. However, even after 20 h, no regeneration occurred following SMase D digestion. These findings suggest that the translocation of PM FC caused by SMase C digestion is due to the cellular effects of ceramide rather than the loss of SM. Since ceramide phosphate does not appear to have such effects, we suggest that SMase D is a useful probe of membrane SM.

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