Although most glycosphingolipids (GSLs) are thought to be located in the outer leaflet of the plasma membrane, recent evidence indicates that GSLs and their precursor, ceramide, are also associated with intracellular organelles and, particularly, mitochondria. GSL biosynthesis starts with the formation of ceramide in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), which is transported by controversial mechanisms to the Golgi apparatus, where stepwise addition of monosaccharides on to ceramides takes place. We now report the presence of GSL-biosynthetic enzymes in a subcompartment of the ER previously characterized and termed ‘mitochondria-associated membrane’ (MAM). MAM is a membrane bridge between the ER and mitochondria that is involved in the biosynthesis and trafficking of phospholipids between the two organelles. Using exogenous acceptors coated on silica gel, we demonstrate the presence of ceramide glucosyltransferase (Cer-Glc-T), glucosylceramide galactosyltransferase and sialyltransferase (SAT) activities in the MAM. Estimation of the marker-enzyme activities showed that glycosyltransferase activities could not be ascribed to cross-contamination of MAM by Golgi membranes. Cer-Glc-T was found to have a marked preference for ceramide bearing phytosphingosine as sphingoid base. SAT activities in MAM led to the synthesis of GM3 ganglioside and small amounts of GD3. GM1 was also synthesized along with GM3 upon incubation of the fraction with exogenous unlabelled GM3, underlying the presence of other sphingolipid-specific glycosyltransferases in MAM. On the basis of our results, we propose MAM as a privileged compartment in providing GSLs for mitochondria.
- mitochondria-associated membrane (MAM)
↵1 Permanent address: Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry Petru Poni, Aleea Gr. Ghica Voda 41A, Iassy 6600, Romania.
↵2 Present address: Department of Biological Chemistry, Weizmann Institute of Science, 76100 Rehovot, Israel.
Abbreviations used: MAM, mitochondria-associated membrane; GSL, glycosphingolipid; ER, endoplasmic reticulum; Cer-Glc-T, ceramide glucosyltransferase; Gal-T1 glucosylceramide (Glc-Cer) galactosyltransferase; HPTLC, high-performance TLC; Lac-Cer, lactosylceramide; Glc-Cer, glucosylceramide; Gal-T2, Lac-Cer synthase; SAT, sialyltransferase; the nomenclature of Svennerholm  is used for gangliosides.
- The Biochemical Society, London ©2003