Accumulation of phosphatidylserine in the inner leaflet of the plasma membrane is a hallmark of eukaryotes. Sublethal levels of staurosporine and related compounds deplete phosphatidylserine from the plasma membrane and abrogate K-Ras signaling. Here, we report that low-dose staurosporine and related compounds increase sphingomyelin mass. Mass-spectrometry and metabolic tracer analysis revealed an increase in both the levels and rate of synthesis of sphingomyelin in response to sublethal staurosporine. Mechanistically, it was determined that the abundance of the ORMDL proteins, which negatively regulate serine-palmitoyltransferase, are decreased by low-dose staurosporine. Finally, inhibition of ceramide synthesis, and thus sphingomyelin, prevented the displacement of phosphatidylserine and cholesterol from the inner leaflet of the plasma membrane. The results establish that an optimal level of sphingomyelin is required to maintain the distribution of phosphatidylserine and cholesterol in the plasma membrane and further demonstrate a complex relationship between the trafficking of phosphatidylserine and sphingomyelin.
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