The intracellular flow and fate of two fluorescently labeled sphingolipids, 6-[N-(7-nitro-2,1,3-benzoxadiazol-4-yl) amino]hexanoyl glucosyl sphingosine (C6-NBD-glucosylceramide) and C6-NBD-sphingomyelin, was examined in the human colon adenocarcinoma cell line HT29. After their insertion into the plasma membrane at low temperature and subsequent warming of the cells to 37 degrees C, both sphingolipid analogues were internalized by endocytosis, but their intracellular site of destination differed. After 30 min of internalization, C6-NBD-glucosylceramide was localized in the Golgi apparatus, as demonstrated by colocalization with fluorescently labeled ceramide, a Golgi complex marker, and by showing that monensin-induced disruption of the Golgi structure was paralleled by a similar perturbation of the fluorescence distribution. By contrast, C6-NBD-sphingomyelin does not colocalize with the tagged ceramide. Rather, a colocalization with ricin, which is internalized by endocytosis and predominantly reaches the lysosomes, was observed, indicating that the site of delivery of this lipid is restricted to endosomal/lysosomal compartments. Also, in monensin-treated cells no change in the distribution of fluorescence was observed. Thus, these results demonstrate that (sphingo)lipid sorting can occur in the endocytic pathway. Interestingly, the observed sorting phenomenon was specific for glucosylceramide, when compared to other glycolipids, while only undifferentiated HT29 cells displayed the different routing of the two lipids. In differentiated HT29 cells the internalization pathway of sphingomyelin and glucosylceramide was indistinguishable from that of transferrin.

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