Rhodamine- and fluorescein-labeled gangliosides were used as probes to investigate the distribution, dynamics, and fate of plasma membrane-bound gangliosides on cultured human fibroblasts. When sparse cultures of fibroblasts were incubated with the fluorescent ganglioside derivatives, their surfaces became highly fluorescent. The fluorescent gangliosides were taken up by the cells in a time- and temperature-dependent manner and were not removed from the cell surface by trypsin or serum. Thus, the gangliosides appeared to be stably incorporated into the lipid bilayer of the plasma membrane. Fluorescent photobleaching recovery measurements showed that the inserted gangliosides were free to diffuse in the plane of the membrane with a high diffusion coefficient of approximately 10(-8) cm2/s. When the ganglioside-treated cells were washed and incubated in fresh medium, the surface gangliosides became internalized with time, and localized in the perinuclear region of the fibroblasts. In dense cultures of fibroblasts, a large fraction of the fluorescent gangliosides were organized in a fibrillar network and were immobile on the time scale of fluorescent photobleaching recovery measurements. Using antifibronectin antibodies and indirect immunofluorescence, these gangliosides were found to co-distribute with fibrillar fibronectin. Thus, exogenous gangliosides appear to be stably inserted into the lipid bilayer of the plasma membrane and to diffuse freely in its plane as well as form a less mobile state with the fibrillar networks of fibronectin associated with the cells.

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