We have previously shown that a fluorescent derivative of ceramide, N-(epsilon-7-nitrobenz-2-oxa-1,3-diazol-4-yl-aminocaproyl)-D-eryth ro-sphingosin e (C6-NBD-Cer), vitally stains the Golgi apparatus of cells (Lipsky, N. G., and R. E. Pagano. 1985. Science (Wash. DC). 228:745-747). In the present paper we demonstrate that C6-NBD-Cer also accumulates at the Golgi apparatus of fixed cells and we explore the mechanism by which this occurs. When human skin fibroblasts were fixed with glutaraldehyde and then incubated with C6-NBD-Cer at 2 degrees C, the fluorescent lipid spontaneously transferred into the cells, labeling the Golgi apparatus as well as other intracellular membranes. Subsequent incubations with defatted BSA at 24 degrees C removed excess C6-NBD-Cer from the cells such that fluorescence was then detected only at the Golgi apparatus. Similar results were obtained using other cell types. A method for visualizing the fluorescent lipid at the electron microscopic level, based on the photoconversion of a fluorescent marker to a diaminobenzidine product (Sandell, J. H., and R. H. Masland, 1988. J. Histochem. Cytochem. 36:555-559), is described and evidence is presented that C6-NBD-Cer was localized to the trans cisternae of the Golgi apparatus. While accumulation occurred in cells fixed in various ways, it was inhibited when fixation protocols that extract or modify cellular lipids were used. In addition, Filipin, which forms complexes with cellular cholesterol, labeled the Golgi apparatus of fixed cells and inhibited accumulation of C6-NBD-Cer at the Golgi apparatus. These results are discussed in terms of a simple model based on the physical properties of C6-NBD-Cer and its interactions with endogenous lipids of the Golgi apparatus. Possible implications of these findings for metabolism and transport of (fluorescent) sphingolipids in vivo are also presented.

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