Regulation of ceramide and its metabolites: biosynthesis and; in situ sphingolipid analysis
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Sphingolipids are found in essentially all animals, plants and fungi, and some prokaryotic organisms and viruses. Sphingolipids function as structural components of membranes, lipoproteins, and as cell signaling modulators and mediators. To complicate matters further, sphingolipids often vary in type in different regions of tissues, and even in single cells, the subcellular localization of sphingolipids and their metabolic enzymes, transport proteins and targets may influence their functions. It is important to study sphingolipids spatial distribution within living organisms to understand how sphingolipids are involved in complex biochemical processes. As part of this thesis, procedures were optimized for the use of matrix assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) tissue mass spectrometry (TIMS) to visualize the location of several types of lipids including sulfatides (ST), gangliosides and phosphoglycerolipids in brains from a mouse model for Tay-Sachs/Sandhoff disease. MALDI-TIMS was next applied to human ovarian carcinoma tissue to detect sulfatide location and established that ST are associated specifically with the regions of the ovarian tissue that bear the carcinoma. Electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry (ESI-MS-MS) was also used to confirm that ST and galactosylceramide (GalCer) are elevated in ovarian cancer. Gene expression data using tumor cells collected using laser capture microdissection revealed greater expression of mRNAs for GalCer synthase, GalCer sulfotransferase (Gal3ST1) and other enzymes of ST biosynthesis in epithelial ovarian carcinoma cells. This is a unique combination of two complementary, profiling technologies--mass spectrometry (metabolomic approach) with analysis of gene expression to study complex cancer pathology. The next study focused on the subcellular location of sphingolipids. In comparison with wild type Hek293 cells, a Hek293 cell line stably overexpressing serine palmitoyltransferase (SPT1/2 cells) was found to have elevated amounts of all subspecies of ceramide (Cer), but produces disproportionately higher amounts of C18-Cer and GalCer. Since Cer is known to inhibit protein ER/Golgi trafficking, these studies found that the higher production of Cer caused impairment of ER/Golgi trafficking of Ceramide synthase 1 (CerS1), thus increased C18-Cer. In addition, since GalCer is only synthesized in the lumen of the ER, this impairement of ER/Golgi trafficking also gave GalCer synthase access to its substrate and increased GalCer biosynthesis. These studies illustrate the complexity of sphingolipid biology and the usefulness of multiple tools to understand sphingolipid complex biological processes.