The concentration of sphingosine 1-phosphate (S1P) in plasma or serum is much higher than the half-maximal concentration of the sphingolipid needed to stimulate its receptors. Nevertheless, the inositol phosphate response to plasma or serum mediated by Edg-3, one of the S1P receptors, which was overexpressed in Chinese hamster ovary cells, was much smaller than the response expected from the total amount of S1P in these samples. The inositol phosphate response to exogenous S1P was markedly attenuated in the presence of charcoal-treated low-S1P serum. The inhibitory effect was lost by boiling but not by dialysis of the serum. The inhibitory action of the serum was specific to S1P and was associated with the trapping of exogenous S1P; the inositol phosphate response to P2-purinergic agonists was somewhat enhanced by the charcoal-treated serum. Among the components of plasma or serum, lipoproteins such as low-density and high-density lipoproteins showed a stronger activity for trapping S1P than lipoprotein-deficient serum. Consistent with this observation, we detected a 15Ő100-fold higher amount of S1P per unit amount of protein in lipoproteins than in the lipoprotein-deficient serum. Thus even though the protein content of the lipoprotein fraction contributes to only 4% of the total protein content of plasma or serum, more than 60% of S1P is distributed in this fraction. These results suggest that the tight binding of S1P to the components of serum or plasma, including lipoproteins, may interfere with the S1P binding to its receptors and thereby attenuate the lipid-receptor-mediated actions in the cells.

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