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Biochem J. 2005 Jul 15;389(Pt 2):517-26.

The reconstituted P-glycoprotein multidrug transporter is a flippase for glucosylceramide and other simple glycosphingolipids.

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Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada.


The Pgp (P-glycoprotein) multidrug transporter, which is linked to multidrug resistance in human cancers, functions as an efflux pump for non-polar drugs, powered by the hydrolysis of ATP at its nucleotide binding domains. The drug binding sites of Pgp appear to be located within the cytoplasmic leaflet of the membrane bilayer, suggesting that Pgp may function as a 'flippase' for hydrophobic compounds. Pgp has been shown to translocate fluorescent phospholipids, and it has been suggested that it may also interact with GlcCer (glucosylceramide). Here we use a dithionite fluorescence quenching technique to show that reconstituted Pgp can flip several NBD (nitrobenzo-2-oxa-1,3-diazole)-labelled simple glycosphingolipids, including NBD-GlcCer, from one leaflet of the bilayer to the other in an ATP-dependent, vanadate-sensitive fashion. The rate of NBD-GlcCer flipping was similar to that observed for NBD-labelled PC (phosphatidylcholine). NBD-GlcCer flipping was inhibited in a concentration-dependent, saturable fashion by various Pgp substrates and modulators, and inhibition correlated well with the Kd for binding to the protein. The addition of a second sugar to the headgroup of the glycolipid to form NBD-lactosylceramide drastically reduced the rate of flipping compared with NBD-PC, probably because of the increased size and polarity contributed by the additional sugar residue. We conclude that Pgp functions as a broad-specificity outwardly-directed flippase for simple glycosphingolipids and membrane phospholipids.

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