• Ceramide-mediated Regulation of Cell Polarity in Primitive Ectoderm Cells: A novel role for sphingolipids in morphogenesis

      Krishnamurthy, Kannan; Institute of Molecular Medicine and Genetics (2009-01)
      Ceramide is considered a key sphingolipid, regulating a variety of critical cellular processes. To facilitate the study of ceramide localization and its interaction with cellular proteins, we have developed a novel antibody against ceramide, raised in rabbit (rabbit IgG). The novel antibody specifically recognizes ceramide in lipid overlay assays and detects ceramide containing different fatty acid chain lengths (i.e. C2-, C16-, C18-, C20- and C24 ceramide). The new antibody was compared with the commercially available anti-ceramide mouse IgM antibody in immunocytochemistry experiments to study the localization of ceramide. Although both antibodies stain similar regions on the cell membrane, the rabbit IgG reveals the distribution of ceramide in intracellular compartments that are not well identified with the commercially available antibody. Pharmacological depletion or increase of ceramide levels results in a corresponding change in staining intensity, confirming the specificity of the antibody. These results indicate that the rabbit IgG is a suitable antibody to determine both the localization of ceramide, and its interaction with proteins by immunocytochemistry. To investigate the role of ceramide in early embryonic development, we used embryoid bodies (EBs) differentiated from mouse embryonic stem cells as a model. The primitive ectoderm cell layer of EBs represents the primitive ectoderm of the early embryo. In mammals, the primitive ectoderm is an epithelium of polarized cells that undergoes gastrulation and differentiates into all embryonic tissues. We find that in primitive ectoderm cells, ceramide was elevated and asymmetrically distributed to the apico-lateral cell membrane, where it was co-distributed with Cdc42 and F-actin. Pharmacological or siRNAmediated inhibition of ceramide biosynthesis impaired primitive ectoderm formation and concomitantly increased apoptosis in EBs. Primitive ectoderm formation was restored by incubation with ceramide or a ceramide analog, indicating that the observed defect was due to loss of ceramide. Ceramide depletion also prevented membrane translocation of atypical PKC (aPKC), interaction of aPKC with Cdc42, and phosphorylation of GSK-3|3. Recombinant aPKC, when bound to ceramide-containing lipid vesicles, formed a complex with the polarity protein Par6 and Cdc42. Taken together, our data suggest a novel mechanism by which a ceramide-induced, apico-lateral polarity complex with aPKC regulates primitive ectoderm cell polarity and morphogenesis.