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Expression of ceramide glucosyltransferases, which are essential for glycosphingolipid synthesis, is only required in a small subset of C. elegans cells
Esther Marza, Karina T. Simonsen, Nils J. Færgeman, Giovanni M. Lesa

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Glycosphingolipids (GSLs) are glycosylated derivatives of ceramide in the lipid bilayer. Their ubiquitous distribution and complexity suggest that they have important functions, but what these are in vivo is still poorly understood. Here, we characterize the phenotype of Caenorhabditis elegans mutants with essentially no GSLs. The C. elegans genome encodes three ceramide glucosyltransferase (CGT) genes, which encode enzymes required for GSL biosynthesis. Animals lacking CGT do not synthesize GSLs, arrest growth at the first larval stage, and display defects in a subset of cells in their digestive tract; these defects impair larval feeding, resulting in a starvation-induced growth arrest. Restoring CGT function in these digestive tract cells – but not in a variety of other tissues – is sufficient to rescue the phenotypes associated with loss of CGT function. These unexpected findings suggest that GSLs are dispensable in most C. elegans cells, including those of the nervous system.


  • This work was supported by the Royal Society (G.M.L.), the Medical Research Council (E.M. and G.M.L.) and Cancer Research UK (G.M.L.). We thank Lucy Collinson for EM analysis, Shoei Mitani for the cgt deletions, Andy Fire for plasmids, Martin Raff for discussions, Giovanna Lalli, Stephen Nurrish and Martin Raff for critically reading the manuscript and Giampietro Schiavo for support during the initial stages of this work. Some nematode strains were provided by the Caenorhabditis Genetics Center, which is funded by the NIH National Center for Research Resources (NCRR). Deposited in PMC for release after 6 months.

  • Supplementary material available online at

  • Accepted November 26, 2008.
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