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The Structural Role of Gangliosides: Insights from X-ray Scattering on Model Membranes

[ Vol. 27 , Issue. 38 ]


Konstantin Andreev *   Pages 6548 - 6570 ( 23 )


Background: Gangliosides are an essential component of eukaryotic plasma membranes implicated in multiple physiological processes. Little is known about molecular mechanisms underlying the distribution and functions of membrane gangliosides. The overwhelmingly complex organization of glycocalyx impedes the structural analysis on cell surface and the interplay between the lipid components. Advanced X-ray analytical tools applicable to studying biological interfaces call for the simplistic models that mimic ganglioside-enriched cellular membranes.

Objective: To summarize the mechanistic evidences of ganglioside interactions with lipid environment and biologically active ligands using high-resolution synchrotron X-ray scattering.

Methods: A comprehensive review of studies published over the last decade was done to discuss recent accomplishments and future trends.

Results: Langmuir monolayers represent an adequate model system to assess the effect of gangliosides on membrane structure. Grazing incidence X-ray diffraction reveals a condensation effect by gangliosides on zwitterionic phospholipids with the cooperative packing of sialo- and phosphate groups. In turn, the arrangement of negatively charged lipids in ganglioside mixture remains unchanged due to the stretched conformation of carbohydrate moieties. Upon interaction with biological ligands, such as cholera toxin and galectins, the ganglioside redistribution within the ordered regions of monolayer follows distinct mechanistic patterns. The cholera toxin pentamer attached to the oligosaccharide core induces local transition from oblique to the hexagonal lattice resulting in phase coexistence. The incorporation of the A subunit responsible for endocytosis is further promoted by the acidic environment characteristic for endosomal space. X-ray reflectivity shows in-plane orientation of galectin dimers with the spatial mismatch between the lectin binding sites and ganglioside carbohydrates to perturb ceramide alkyl chains. Recent data also demonstrate sialic acid groups to be potential targets for novel peptide mimicking anticancer therapeutics.

Conclusion: Coupled with surface X-ray scattering, the membrane mimetic approach allows for better understanding the biological role of gangliosides and their potential applications.


Gangliosides, Langmuir monolayers, X-ray scattering, lipid membrane, cholera toxin, sialic acid, cancer.


Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Northwestern University, Evanston IL

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