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noun, plural: glycosphingolipids

A type of glycolipid made up of a glycan (or a carbohydrate) linked to the sphingolipid


A glycolipid is a glycoconjugate comprised of a carbohydrate and a lipid. Examples include glycosphingolipids, glyceroglycolipids, and glycophosphatidylinositol.

A glycosphingolipid is a glycolipid comprised of a carbohydrate and a sphingolipid -- particularly one that has a sphingosine backbone. The sphingosine is an amino alcohol that has a chemical formula of C18H37NO2. The carbohydrate is linked to a sphingolipid by a glycosidic bond. Thus, hydrolysis of the sphingolipid yields sugar (e.g. galactose or a similar sugar), a fatty acid, and sphingosine or dihydrospingosine.

Glycosphingolipids are one of the lipid components of the cell membrane. They, therefore, help stabilize the cell membrane structure. The carbohydrate constituent of a glycosphingolipid extends or protrudes on the outside of the cell membrane. Thus, glycosphingolipids are also involved in cell to cell interactions (cell adhesion) and cell recognition.

Examples of glycosphingolipids include cerebrosides, gangliosides, globosides, glycophosphosphingolipids, and glycophosphatidylinositols. Gangliosides, in particular, are glycosphingolipids that occur in the cell membranes of neurons. Their carbohydrate component is involved in the interaction between neurons, and therefore, plays a role in cell signaling.

Word origin: Ancient Greek glukús (“sweet”) + sphingolipid

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