Sphingosine 1-phosphate (S1P) is the ligand for a family of specific G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) that regulate a wide variety of important cellular functions, including growth, survival, cytoskeletal rearrangements, and cell motility. However, whether it also has an intracellular function is still a matter of great debate. Overexpression of sphingosine kinase type 1, which generated S1P, induced extensive stress fibers and impaired formation of the Src-focal adhesion kinase signaling complex, with consequent aberrant focal adhesion turnover, leading to inhibition of cell locomotion. We have dissected biological responses dependent on intracellular S1P from those that are receptor-mediated by specifically blocking signaling of Gαq, Gαi, Gα12/13, and Gβγ subunits, the G proteins that S1P receptors (S1PRs) couple to and signal through. We found that intracellular S1P signaled "inside out" through its cell-surface receptors linked to G12/13-mediated stress fiber formation, important for cell motility. Remarkably, cell growth stimulation and suppression of apoptosis by endogenous S1P were independent of GPCRs and inside-out signaling. Using fibroblasts from embryonic mice devoid of functional S1PRs, we also demonstrated that, in contrast to exogenous S1P, intracellular S1P formed by overexpression of sphingosine kinase type 1 promoted growth and survival independent of its GPCRs. Hence, exogenous and intracellularly generated S1Ps affect cell growth and survival by divergent pathways. Our results demonstrate a receptor-independent intracellular function of S1P, reminiscent of its action in yeast cells that lack S1PRs.
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