Free glycosylphosphatidylinositols (GPIs) are an important class of membrane lipids in many pathogenic protozoa. In this study, we have investigated the subcellular distribution and intracellular trafficking of an abundant class of free GPIs [termed glycosylinositolphospholipids (GIPLs)] in Leishmania mexicana promastigotes. The intracellular transport of the GIPLs and the major GPI-anchored glycoprotein gp63 was measured by following the incorporation of these molecules into sphingolipid-rich, detergent-resistant membranes (DRMs) in the plasma membrane. In metabolic-labelling experiments, mature GIPLs and gp63 were transported to DRMs in the plasma membrane with a t1/2 of 70 and 40min, respectively. Probably, GIPL transport to the DRMs involves a vesicular mechanism, as transport of both the GIPLs and gp63 was inhibited similarly at 10°C. All GIPL intermediates were quantitatively recovered in Triton X-100-soluble membranes and were largely orientated on the cytoplasmic face of the endoplasmic reticulum, as shown by their sensitivity to exogenous phosphatidylinositol-specific phospho-lipase C. On the contrary, a significant proportion of the mature GIPLs (≈50% of iM4) were accessible to membrane-impermeable probes on the surface of live promastigotes. These results suggest that the GIPLs are flipped across intracellular or plasma membranes during surface transport and that a significant fraction may populate the cytoplasmic leaflet of the plasma membrane. Finally, treatment of L. mexicana promastigotes with myriocin, an inhibitor of sphingolipid biosynthesis, demonstrated that ongoing sphingolipid biosynthesis is not required for the plasma-membrane transport of either gp63 or the GIPLs and that DRMs persist even when cellular levels of the major sphingolipid are depleted by 70%.

Abbreviations used: BiP, immunoglobulin heavy-chain binding protein; DRMs, detergent-resistant membranes; GPI, glycosylphosphatidylinositol; GIPL, glycosylinositolphospholipid; ER, endoplasmic reticulum; HPTLC, high-performance thin layer chromatography; IPC, inositol phosphoceramide; LPG, lipophosphoglycan; PI-PLC, phosphatidylinositol-specific phospholipase C; Tos-Lys-CH2Cl, tosyl-lysylchloromethane; TTBS, Tris-buffered saline containing 0.05% Tween 20.

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Author notes


These authors have contributed equally to this work.