The identification of specific canalicular membrane transporters involved in cholesterol (ABCG5/ABCG8), phosphatidylcholine (MDR3/ABCB4) and bile salt (ABCB11) secretion into bile has permitted the characterization of bile formation at a molecular level.1 The gallbladder is also important, with factors
such as bile stasis induced by gallbladder dysmotility and the presence of potent nucleating agents, chief amongst them mucin glycoproteins, playing essential roles. A detailed understanding of the physical–chemical interactions between lipid carriers in bile has also shed light on the mechanisms involved through the use of ternary bile salt/cholesterol/phospholipid phase diagrams in native and model SB203580 purchase biles.2,3,4 In the evolution of this body of knowledge, there has been minor interest in sphingolipids in the biliary tract. One such focus of interest was sphingomyelin, a major structural phospholipid found on the outer leaflet of the hepatocyte canalicular membrane along with phosphatidylcholine. Thus, even though phosphatidylcholine was the predominant (> 95%) phospholipid found in normal human bile, the physical–chemical basis of interactions between sphingomyelin, cholesterol, phosphatidylcholine and bile salts provided insights into its role in terms of canalicular membrane function,
protection from bile 上海皓元 selleck salt-mediated plasma membrane toxicity, and cholesterol solubilization.5,6 Impetus for this work was also provided by the knowledge that phospholipids such as sphingomyelin and phosphatidylcholine are found in various foods. Furthermore, sphingolipids in association with cholesterol were enriched in plasma membrane microdomains (‘lipid rafts’). Studies in rat hepatocytes showed that such sphingolipid-enriched rafts allowed exocytotic insertion and retrieval of plasma membrane proteins involved in canalicular secretion, such as aquaporins.7,8
In these studies, the focus on sphingomyelin stemmed from questions related to the functional consequences of physical–chemical and membrane domain interactions. The report in this issue by Lee et al.9 signals a new era in the study of the role of sphingolipids in biliary cholesterol secretion, solubilization and crystallization. An appreciation of this paradigm shift in the role of sphingolipids must begin with a review of the concept of ‘bioactive’ sphingolipids, that is, sphingolipids that confer far-reaching functional consequences on cellular functions with minute changes in concentration. Sphingomyelin can be metabolized by sphingomyelinases into downstream sphingolipids, the most important of which is ceramide, the prototypic and most well-studied bioactive sphingolipid.