Ceramide is the simplest precursor of sphingolipids and is involved in a variety of biological functions ranging from apoptosis to the immune responses. Although ceramide is a minor constituent of plasma membranes, it drastically increases upon cellular stimulation. However, the mechanistic link between ceramide generation and signal transduction remains unknown. To address this issue, the effect of ceramide on phospholipid membranes has been examined in numerous studies. One of the most remarkable findings of these studies is that ceramide induces the coalescence of membrane domains termed lipid rafts. Thus, it has been hypothesised that ceramide exerts its biological activity through the structural alteration of lipid rafts. In the present article, we first discuss the characteristic hydrogen bond functionality of ceramides. Then, we showed the impact of ceramide on the structures of artificial and cell membranes, including the coalescence of the pre-existing lipid raft into a large patch called a signal platform. Moreover, we proposed a possible structure of the signal platform, in which sphingomyelin/cholesterol-rich and sphingomyelin/ceramide-rich domains coexist. This structure is considered to be beneficial because membrane proteins and their inhibitors are separately compartmentalised in those domains. Considering the fact that ceramide/cholesterol content regulates the miscibility of those two domains in model membranes, the association and dissociation of membrane proteins and their inhibitors might be controlled by the contents of ceramide and cholesterol in the signal platform.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Chemical Engineering (miscellaneous)
- Process Chemistry and Technology
- Filtration and Separation