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Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2009 Jun;41(6):1296-303. doi: 10.1016/j.biocel.2008.11.004. Epub 2008 Nov 25.

Hexadecylphosphocholine alters nonvesicular cholesterol traffic from the plasma membrane to the endoplasmic reticulum and inhibits the synthesis of sphingomyelin in HepG2 cells.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology I, Faculty of Sciences, University of Granada, Av. Fuentenueva s/n, Granada 18001, Spain.


The synthetic lipid analogue, hexadecylphosphocholine is an antitumoral and antileishmanial agent that acts on cell membranes and can induce apoptosis. We have previously investigated the effect of hexadecylphosphocholine on the biosynthesis and intracellular transport of cholesterol in the human hepatoma HepG2 cell line. Here we show that the traffic of endocytosed-cholesterol from LDL to the plasma membrane and the transport of newly synthesized cholesterol from the endoplasmic reticulum to the plasma membrane were unaffected by alkylphosphocholine exposure. On the contrary, cholesterol traffic from the plasma membrane to the endoplasmic reticulum was drastically interrupted after 1 h of cell exposition to HePC and, consequently, the intracellular esterification of cholesterol was substantially decreased. Our results also demonstrate that this alkylphosphocholine exclusively affected the nonvesicular, energy-independent cholesterol traffic, without altering the vesicular transport. In addition, hydrolysis of plasma membrane sphingomyelin by exogenously added sphingomyelinase resulted in enhanced plasma-membrane cholesterol esterification, but sphingomyelinase treatment did not prevent the inhibition in cholesteryl ester formation caused by hexadecylphosphocholine. We also found that sphingomyelin synthesis was significantly inhibited in HepG2 cells after exposure to hexadecylphosphocholine. Since sphingomyelin and cholesterol are major lipid constituents of membrane raft microdomains, these results suggest that hexadecylphosphocholine could disturb membrane raft integrity and thence its functionality.

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