SMS [SM (sphingomyelin) synthase] is a class of enzymes that produces SM by transferring a phosphocholine moiety on to ceramide. PC (phosphatidylcholine) is believed to be the phosphocholine donor of the reaction with consequent production of DAG (diacylglycerol), an important bioactive lipid. In the present study, by modulating SMS1 and SMS2 expression, the role of these enzymes on the elusive regulation of DAG was investigated. Because we found that modulation of SMS1 or SMS2 did not affect total levels of endogenous DAG in resting cells, whereas they produce DAG in vitro, the possibility that SMSs could modulate subcellular pools of DAG, once acute activation of the enzymes is triggered, was investigated. Stimulation of SM synthesis was induced by either treatment with short-chain ceramide analogues or by increasing endogenous ceramide at the plasma membrane, and a fluorescently labelled conventional C1 domain [from PKC (protein kinase C)] enhanced in its DAG binding activity was used to probe subcellular pools of DAG in the cell. With this approach, we found, using confocal microscopy and subcellular fractionation, that modulation of SMS1 and, to a lesser extent, SMS2 affected the formation of DAG at the Golgi apparatus. Similarly, down-regulation of SMS1 and SMS2 reduced the localization of the DAG-binding protein PKD (protein kinase D) to the Golgi. These results provide direct evidence that both enzymes are capable of regulating the formation of DAG in cells, that this pool of DAG is biologically active, and for the first time directly implicate SMS1 and SMS2 as regulators of DAG-binding proteins in the Golgi apparatus.

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