Incubation of HeLa cells in the presence of millimolar concentrations of propionate, butyrate, or pentanoate increases the specific activity of CMP-sialic acid:lactosylceramide sialyltransferase 7-20-fold within 24 h. Longer-chain saturated fatty acids or acetate are much less effective, decanoate showing no induction. Unsaturated fatty acid analogs of butyrate and other compounds are ineffective. Only the three most effective compounds also produce characteristic smooth extended cell processes in HeLa cells. Butyrate (5 mM) induces the sialyltransferase after a 4-h lag, producing maximum specific activity by 24 h. The amount of sialyl-lactosylceramide, the glycolipid product of the enzyme, increases during that time 3.5 times more than in control cultures. No other glycosphingolipid enzyme is significantly altered by butyrate exposure. The cellular shape changes occur 2-3 h later than the increase of sialyltransferase activity, and both processes require the continuous presence of inducer and the synthesis of RNA and protein but not the synthesis of DNA or the presence of serum.

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