Role of Galactosylceramide and Sulfatide in Oligodendrocytes and CNS Myelin: Formation of a Glycosynapse

  • Joan M. Boggs
Part of the Advances in Neurobiology book series (NEUROBIOL, volume 9)


The two major glycosphingolipids of myelin, galactosylceramide (GalC) and sulfatide (SGC), interact with each other by trans carbohydrate–carbohydrate interactions in vitro. They face each other in the apposed extracellular surfaces of the multilayered myelin sheath produced by oligodendrocytes and could also contact each other between apposed oligodendrocyte processes. Multivalent galactose and sulfated galactose, in the form of GalC/SGC-containing liposomes or silica nanoparticles conjugated to galactose and galactose-3-sulfate, interact with GalC and SGC in the membrane sheets of oligodendrocytes in culture. This interaction causes transmembrane signaling, loss of the cytoskeleton and clustering of membrane domains, similar to the effects of cross-linking by anti-GalC and anti-SGC antibodies. These effects suggest that GalC and SGC could participate in glycosynapses, similar to neural synapses or the immunological synapse, between GSL-enriched membrane domains in apposed oligodendrocyte membranes or extracellular surfaces of mature myelin. Formation of such glycosynapses in vivo would be important for myelination and/or oligodendrocyte/myelin function.


Carbohydrate–carbohydrate interactions Glycosphingolipids Membrane domains Membrane rafts Cytoskeleton Signaling Actin Microtubules Myelin basic protein Silica nanoparticles Liposomes 





UDP-galactose:ceramide galactosyltransferase


Cell tracker lipophilic red fluorescent dye


2′,3′-Cyclic nucleotide 3′-phosphodiesterase


Galactosylceramide 3′-sulfotransferase


Detergent-insoluble glycosphingolipid-enriched membrane domains


Fatty acid 2-hydroxylase


Galactose conjugated to bovine serum albumin






Where glyco = Gal, S-Gal, Glc, Man, silica nanoparticles conjugated to galactose, galactose-3-sulfate, glucose, or mannose






Hydroxy fatty acid form of GSL


Gene knockout




Myelin-associated glycoprotein


Mitogen activated protein kinase (p42 and p44, 42 and 44 kDa isoforms)


Myelin basic protein


Lactate transporter




Myelin/oligodendrocyte glycoprotein


Nonhydroxy fatty acid form of GSL






Proteolipid protein


Sulfatide sulfated form of GalC, galactosylceramide I3-sulfate


Seminolipid sulfogalactosyldiglyceride, 3-sulfated form of MGDG





Studies from the Boggs laboratory were supported by operating grants from the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada. My collaborator for the glyco-nanoparticle studies, Dr. Amit Basu, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, is gratefully acknowledged. Ms. Huimin Wang, Dr. Wen Gao, Dr. Yuanfang Liu, Mr. Jingsha Zhao, Dr. Yukie Hirahara, and Dr. Hyun-Joo Park are thanked for their excellent assistance with these studies.

Compliance with Ethics Requirements Joan Boggs declares that she has no conflict of interest. This article made use of cultured oligodendrocytes obtained from rats. All institutional and national guidelines for the care and use of laboratory animals were followed. This article does not contain any studies with human subjects.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Molecular Structure and Function Program, Research InstituteHospital for Sick ChildrenTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Department of Laboratory Medicine and PathobiologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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