In our attempt to assess the topology of glucosylceramide biosynthesis, we have employed a truncated ceramide analogue that permeates cell membranes and is converted into water soluble sphingolipid analogues both in living and in fractionated cells. Truncated sphingomyelin is synthesized in the lumen of the Golgi, whereas glucosylceramide is synthesized at the cytosolic surface of the Golgi as shown by (a) the insensitivity of truncated sphingomyelin synthesis and the sensitivity of truncated glucosylceramide synthesis in intact Golgi membranes from rabbit liver to treatment with protease or the chemical reagent DIDS; and (b) sensitivity of truncated sphingomyelin export and insensitivity of truncated glucosylceramide export to decreased temperature and the presence of GTP-gamma-S in semiintact CHO cells. Moreover, subfractionation of rat liver Golgi demonstrated that the sphingomyelin synthase activity was restricted to fractions containing marker enzymes for the proximal Golgi, whereas the capacity to synthesize truncated glucosylceramide was also found in fractions containing distal Golgi markers. A similar distribution of glucosylceramide synthesizing activity was observed in the Golgi of the human liver derived HepG2 cells. The cytosolic orientation of the reaction in HepG2 cells was confirmed by complete extractability of newly formed NBD-glucosylceramide from isolated Golgi membranes or semiintact cells by serum albumin, whereas NBD-sphingomyelin remained protected against such extraction.

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