Most glycosphingolipids are synthesized by the sequential addition of monosaccharides to glucosylceramide (GlcCer) in the lumen of the Golgi apparatus. Because GlcCer is synthesized on the cytoplasmic face of Golgi membranes, it must be flipped to the non-cytoplasmic face by a lipid flippase in order to nucleate glycosphingolipid synthesis. Halter et al. (Halter, D., Neumann, S., van Dijk, S. M., Wolthoorn, J., de Maziere, A. M., Vieira, O. V., Mattjus, P., Klumperman, J., van Meer, G., and Sprong, H. (2007) Pre- and post-Golgi translocation of glucosylceramide in glycosphingolipid synthesis. J. Cell Biol. 179, 101-115) proposed that this essential flipping step is accomplished via a complex trafficking itinerary; GlcCer is moved from the cytoplasmic face of the Golgi to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) by FAPP2, a cytoplasmic lipid transfer protein, flipped across the ER membrane, then delivered to the lumen of the Golgi complex by vesicular transport. We now report biochemical reconstitution studies to analyze GlcCer flipping at the ER. Using proteoliposomes reconstituted from Triton X-100-solubilized rat liver ER membrane proteins, we demonstrate rapid (t(?) < 20 s), ATP-independent flip-flop of N-(6-((7-nitro-2-1,3-benzoxadiazol-4-yl)amino)hexanoyl)-D-glucosyl-?1-1'-sphingosine, a fluorescent GlcCer analog. Further studies involving protein modification, biochemical fractionation, and analyses of flip-flop in proteoliposomes reconstituted with ER membrane proteins from yeast indicate that GlcCer translocation is facilitated by well characterized ER phospholipid flippases that remain to be identified at the molecular level. By reason of their abundance and membrane bending activity, we considered that the ER reticulons and the related Yop1 protein could function as phospholipid-GlcCer flippases. Direct tests showed that these proteins have no flippase activity.
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