DT40 cells have approx. 10-fold higher Mg2+-dependent neutral sphingomyelinase (NSM) activity in comparison with other B-cell lines and contain very low acidic sphingomyelinase activity. Purification of this activity from DT40 cell membranes suggested the presence of one major NSM isoform. Although complete purification of this isoform could not be achieved, partially purified fractions were examined further with regard to the known characteristics of previously partially purified NSMs and the two cloned enzymes exhibiting in vitro NSM activity (NSM1 and NSM2). For a direct comparative study, highly purified brain preparations, purified NSM1 protein and Bacillus cereus enzyme were used. Analysis of the enzymic properties of the partially purified DT40 NSM, such as cation dependence, substrate specificity, redox regulation and stimulation by phosphatidylserine, together with the localization of this enzyme to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), suggested that this NSM from DT40 cells corresponds to NSM1. Further studies aimed to correlate presence of the high levels of this NSM1-like activity in DT40 cells with the ability of these cells to accumulate ceramide and undergo apoptosis. When DT40 cells were stimulated to apoptose by a variety of agents, including the ER stress, an increase in endogenous ceramide levels was observed. However, these responses were not enhanced compared with another B-cell line (Nalm-6), characterized by low sphingomyelinase activity. In addition, DT40 cells were not more susceptible to ceramide accumulation and apoptosis when exposed to the ER stress compared with other apoptotic agents. Inhibition of de novo synthesis of ceramide partially inhibited its accumulation, indicating that the ceramide production in DT40 cells could be complex and, under some conditions, could involve both sphingomyelin hydrolysis and ceramide synthesis.

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