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J Biol Chem. 2011 Sep 9;286(36):31437-46. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M111.257196. Epub 2011 Jul 15.

Trans-activity of plasma membrane-associated ganglioside sialyltransferase in mammalian cells.

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Centro de Investigaciones en Química Biológica de Córdoba (CIQUIBIC, UNC-CONICET), Departamento de Química Biológica, Facultad de Ciencias Químicas, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Córdoba, Argentina.


Gangliosides are acidic glycosphingolipids that contain sialic acid residues and are expressed in nearly all vertebrate cells. They are synthesized at the Golgi complex by a combination of glycosyltransferase activities followed by vesicular delivery to the plasma membrane, where they participate in a variety of physiological as well as pathological processes. Recently, a number of enzymes of ganglioside anabolism and catabolism have been shown to be associated with the plasma membrane. In particular, it was observed that CMP-NeuAc:GM3 sialyltransferase (Sial-T2) is able to sialylate GM3 at the plasma membrane (cis-catalytic activity). In this work, we demonstrated that plasma membrane-integrated ecto-Sial-T2 also displays a trans-catalytic activity at the cell surface of epithelial and melanoma cells. By using a highly sensitive enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay combined with confocal fluorescence microscopy, we observed that ecto-Sial-T2 was able to sialylate hydrophobically or covalently immobilized GM3 onto a solid surface. More interestingly, we observed that ecto-Sial-T2 was able to sialylate GM3 exposed on the membrane of neighboring cells by using both the exogenous and endogenous donor substrate (CMP-N-acetylneuraminic acid) available at the extracellular milieu. In addition, the trans-activity of ecto-Sial-T2 was considerably reduced when the expression of the acceptor substrate was inhibited by using a specific inhibitor of biosynthesis of glycolipids, indicating the lipidic nature of the acceptor. Our findings provide the first direct evidence that an ecto-sialyltransferase is able to trans-sialylate substrates exposed in the plasma membrane from mammalian cells, which represents a novel insight into the molecular events that regulate the local glycosphingolipid composition.

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