Role of sphingomyelinase and ceramide in modulating rafts: Do biophysical properties determine biologic outcome?
Recent biophysical data suggest that the properties of ceramide observed in model membranes may apply to biological systems. In particular, the ability of ceramide to form microdomains, which coalesce into larger platforms or macrodomains, appears to be important for some cellular signaling processes. Several laboratories have now demonstrated similar reorganization of plasma membrane sphingolipid rafts, via ceramide generation, into macrodomains. This event appeared necessary for signaling upon activation of a specific set of cell surface receptors. In this article, we review the properties and functions of rafts, and the role of sphingomyelinase and ceramide in the biogenesis and re-modeling of these rafts. As clustering of some cell surface receptors in these domains may be critical for signal transduction, we propose a new model for transmembrane signal transmission.