Sphingomyelin depletion in cultured cells blocks proteolysis of sterol regulatory element binding proteins at site 1

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The current studies explore the mechanism by which the sphingomyelin content of mammalian cells regulates transcription of genes encoding enzymes of cholesterol synthesis. Previous studies by others have shown that depletion of sphingomyelin by treatment with neutral sphingomyelinase causes a fraction of cellular cholesterol to translocate from the plasma membrane to the endoplasmic reticulum where it expands a regulatory pool that leads to down-regulation of cholesterol synthesis and up-regulation of cholesterol esterification. Here we show that sphingomyelinase treatment of cultured Chinese hamster ovary cells prevents the nuclear entry of sterol regulatory element binding protein-2 (SREBP-2), a membrane-bound transcription factor required for transcription of several genes involved in the biosynthesis and uptake of cholesterol. Nuclear entry is blocked because sphingomyelinase treatment inhibits the proteolytic cleavage of SREBP-2 at site 1, thereby preventing release of the active NH2-terminal fragments from cell membranes. Sphingomyelinase treatment thus mimics the inhibitory effect on SREBP processing that occurs when exogenous sterols are added to cells. Sphingomyelinase treatment did not block site 1 proteolysis of SREBP-2 in 25- RA cells, a line of Chinese hamster ovary cells that is resistant to the suppressive effects of sterols, owing to an activating point mutation in the gene encoding SREBP cleavage-activating protein. In 25-RA cells, sphingomyelinase treatment also failed to downregulate the mRNA for 3- hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl CoA synthase, a cholesterol biosynthetic enzyme whose transcription depends on the cleavage of SREBPs. Considered together with previous data, the current results indicate that cells regulate the balance between cholesterol and sphingomyelin content by regulating the proteolytic cleavage of SREBPs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11179-11183
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number21
StatePublished - Oct 14 1997


  • Cholesterol biosynthesis
  • Cholesteryl ester formation
  • Endoplasmic reticulum
  • Neutral sphingomyelinase
  • Transcription

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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