Glycosphingolipid synthesis is essential for MDCK cell differentiation

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2012 Jun;1821(6):884-94. doi: 10.1016/j.bbalip.2012.02.009. Epub 2012 Feb 23.


Glycosphingolipids (GSLs), which are highly concentrated at the apical membrane of polarized epithelial cells, are key components of cell membranes and are involved in a large number of processes. Here, we investigated the ability of hypertonicity (high salt medium) to induce Madin-Darby Canine Kidney (MDCK) cell differentiation and found an increase in GSL synthesis under hypertonic conditions. Then, we investigated the role of GSLs in MDCK cell differentiation induced by hypertonicity by using two approaches. First, cultured cells were depleted of GSLs by exposure to D-threo-1-phenyl-2-decanoylamino-3-morpholino-1-propanol (D-PDMP). Second, cells were transfected with an siRNA specific to glucosylceramide synthase, the key enzyme in GSL synthesis. Exposure of cells to both treatments resulted in the impairment of the development of the apical membrane domain and the formation of the primary cilium. Enzymatic inhibitions of the de novo and the salvage pathway of GSL synthesis were used to determine the source of ceramide responsible of the GSL increase involved in the development of the apical membrane domain induced by hypertonicity. The results from this study show that extracellular hypertonicity induces the development of a differentiated apical membrane in MDCK cells by performing a sphingolipid metabolic program that includes the formation of a specific pool of GSLs. The results suggest as precursor a specific pool of ceramides formed by activation of a Fumonisin B1-resistant ceramide synthase as a component of the salvage pathway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology*
  • Cell Line
  • Ceramides / biosynthesis
  • Cilia / drug effects
  • Cilia / genetics
  • Cilia / physiology
  • Dogs
  • Glucosyltransferases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Glucosyltransferases / genetics
  • Glucosyltransferases / metabolism*
  • Glycosphingolipids / biosynthesis*
  • Kidney / cytology
  • Kidney / metabolism
  • Membrane Microdomains / drug effects
  • Membrane Microdomains / metabolism
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Models, Biological*
  • Morpholines / pharmacology
  • Oxidoreductases / metabolism
  • RNA Interference
  • Saline Solution, Hypertonic / pharmacology


  • Ceramides
  • Glycosphingolipids
  • Morpholines
  • Saline Solution, Hypertonic
  • RV 538
  • Oxidoreductases
  • dihydroceramide desaturase
  • Glucosyltransferases
  • ceramide glucosyltransferase