The effect of changing the ganglioside composition of Chinese hamster ovary K1 cells on the function of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFr) was examined by studying the signalling pathway generated after the binding of epidermal growth factor (EGF) both in cells depleted of glycosphingolipids by inhibiting glucosylceramide synthase activity and in cell lines expressing different gangliosides as the result of stable transfection of appropriate ganglioside glycosyltransferases. After stimulation with EGF, cells depleted of glycolipids showed EGFr phosphorylation and extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase 2 (ERK2) activity as parental cells expressing GM3 [ganglioside nomenclature follows Svennerholm (1963) J. Neurochem. 10, 613-623] or as transfected cells expressing mostly GM2 and GD1a as the result of stable transfection of UDP-GalNAc:LacCer/GM3/GD3 N-acetylgalactosaminyltransferase. However, cells stably transfected with CMP-NeuAc:GM3 sialyltransferase and expressing GD3 at the cell surface showed both decreased EGFr phosphorylation and ERK2 activation after stimulation with EGF. Results suggest that changes in the ganglioside composition of cell membranes might be important in the regulation of the EGF signal transduction.

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