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Physiological and pathophysiological aspects of ceramide.

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Department of Molecular Biology, University of Duisburg-Essen, Hufelandstrasse 55, 45122 Essen, Germany.


Activation of cells by receptor- and nonreceptor-mediated stimuli not only requires a change in the activity of signaling proteins but also requires a reorganization of the topology of the signalosom in the cell. The cell membrane contains distinct domains, rafts that serve the spatial organization of signaling molecules in the cell. Many receptors or stress stimuli transform rafts by the generation of ceramide. These stimuli activate the acid sphingomyelinase and induce a translocation of this enzyme onto the extracellular leaflet of the cell membrane. Surface acid sphingomyelinase generates ceramide that serves to fuse small rafts and to form large ceramide-enriched membrane platforms. These platforms cluster receptor molecules, recruit intracellular signaling molecules to aggregated receptors, and seem to exclude inhibitory signaling factors. Thus ceramide-enriched membrane platforms do not seem to be part of a specific signaling pathway but may facilitate and amplify the specific signaling elicited by the cognate stimulus. This general function may enable these membrane domains to be critically involved in the induction of apoptosis by death receptors and stress stimuli, bacterial and viral infections of mammalian cells, and the regulation of cardiovascular functions.

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