Sulfatide (ST) is a sphingolipid with an important role in the central nervous system as a major component of the myelin sheath. ST contains a structurally variable ceramide moiety, with a fatty acid substituent of varying carbon-chain length and double-bond number. Hydroxylation at the α-2 carbon position of the fatty acid is found in half the population of ST molecules. Recent genetic studies of fatty acid 2-hydroxylase (FA2H) indicate that these hydroxylated sphingolipids influence myelin sheath stability. However, their distribution is unknown. Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization imaging mass spectrometry (MALDI-IMS) enables the analysis of distinct distributions of individual ST molecular species in tissue section. We examined human cerebral cortex tissue sections with MALDI-IMS, identifying and characterizing the distributions of 14 ST species. The distribution analysis reveals that the composition ratios of non-hydroxylated/hydroxylated STs are clearly reversed at the border between white and gray matter; the hydroxylated group is the dominant ST species in the gray matter. These results suggest that hydroxylated STs are highly expressed in oligodendrocytes in gray matter and might form stable myelin sheaths. As a clinical application, we analyzed a brain with Alzheimer's disease (AD) as a representative neurodegenerative disease. Although previous studies of AD pathology have reported that the amount of total ST is decreased in the cerebral cortex, as far as the compositional distributions of STs are concerned, AD brains were similar to those in control brains. In conclusion, we suggest that MALDI-IMS is a useful tool for analysis of the distributions of various STs and this application might provide novel insight in the clinical study of demyelinating diseases.
Copyright © 2011 IBRO. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.