GEM (glycosphingolipid-enriched microdomains) are specialized detergent-resistant domains of the plasma membrane in which some gangliosides concentrate. Although genesis of GEM is considered to occur in the Golgi complex, where the synthesis of gangliosides also occurs, the issue concerning the incorporation of ganglioside species into GEM is still poorly understood. In this work, using Chinese hamster ovary K1 cell clones with different glycolipid compositions, we compared the behaviour with cold Triton X-100 solubilization of plasma membrane ganglioside species with the same species newly synthesized in Golgi membranes. We also investigated whether three ganglioside glycosyltransferases (a sialyl-, a N-acetylgalactosaminyl- and a galactosyl-transferase) are included or excluded from GEM in Golgi membranes. Our data show that an important fraction of plasma membrane GM3, and most GD3 and GT3, reside in GEM. Immunocytochemical examination of GD3-expressing cells showed GD3 to be distributed as cold-detergent-resistant patches in the plasma membrane. These patches did not co-localize with a glycosylphosphatidylinositol-anchored protein used as GEM marker, indicating a heterogeneous composition of plasma membrane GEM. In Golgi membranes we were unable to find evidence for GEM localization of either ganglioside glycosyltransferases or newly synthesized gangliosides. Since the same ganglioside species appear in plasma membrane GEM, it was concluded that in vivo nascent GD3, GT3 and GM3 segregate from their synthesizing transferases and then enter GEM. This latter event could have taken place shortly after synthesis in the Golgi cisternae, along the secretory pathway and/or at the cell surface.

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