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J Neurochem. 2007 Nov;103 Suppl 1:3-13.

The way we view cellular (glyco)sphingolipids.

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Membrane Enzymology, Bijvoet Center and Institute of Biomembranes, Utrecht University, Urecht, The Netherlands.


Mammalian cells synthesize ceramide in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and convert this to sphingomyelin and complex glycosphingolipids on the inner, non-cytosolic surface of Golgi cisternae. From there, these lipids travel towards the outer, non-cytosolic surface of the plasma membrane and all membranes of the endocytic system, where they are eventually degraded. At the basis of the selective, anterograde traffic out of the Golgi lies the propensity of the sphingolipids to self-aggregate with cholesterol into microdomains termed 'lipid rafts'. At the plasma membrane surface these rafts are thought to function as the scaffold for various types of (glyco) signaling domains of different protein and lipid composition that can co-exist on one and the same cell. In the past decade, various unexpected findings on the sites where sphingolipid-mediated events occur have thrown a new light on the localization and transport mechanisms of sphingolipids. These findings are largely based on biochemical experiments. Further progress in the field is hampered by a lack of morphological techniques to localize lipids with nanometer resolution. In the present paper, we critically evaluate the published data and discuss techniques and potential improvements.

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