Sphingolipid Metabolism

The sphingolipids, like the phospholipids, are composed of a polar head group and two nonpolar tails. The core of sphingolipids is the long-chain amino alcohol, sphingosine. Amino acylation, with a long chain fatty acid, at carbon 2 of sphingosine yields a ceramide. The sphingolipids include the sphingomyelins and glycosphingolipids (the cerebrosides, sulfatides, globosides and gangliosides). Sphingomyelins are the only sphingolipid that are phospholipids. Sphingolipids are a component of all membranes but are particularly abundant in the myelin sheath. De novo sphingolipid synthesis begins with formation of 3-keto-dihydrosphingosine by serine palmitoyltransferase. The preferred substrates for this reaction are palmitoyl-CoA and serine. Next, 3-keto-dihydrosphingosine is reduced to form dihydrosphingosine. Dihydrosphingosine is acylated by a (dihydro)-ceramide synthase to form dihydroceramide. This is desaturated to form ceramide. Ceramide may subsequently have several fates. It may be phosphorylated by ceramide kinase to form ceramide-1-phosphate. Alternatively, it may be glycosylated by glucosylceramide synthase or galactosylceramide synthase. Additionally, it can be converted to sphingomyelin by the addition of a phosphorylcholine headgroup by sphingomyelin synthase. Diacylglycerol is also generated via this process. Finally, ceramide may be broken down by a ceramidase to form sphingosine. Sphingosine may be phosphorylated to form sphingosine-1-phosphate, which may, in turn, be dephosphorylated to regerenate sphingosine. Sphingolipid catabolism allows the reversion of these metabolites to ceramide. The complex glycosphingolipids are hydrolyzed to glucosylceramide and galactosylceramide. These lipids are then hydrolyzed by beta-glucosidases and beta-galactosidases to regenerate ceramide. Similarly, sphingomyelin may be broken down by sphingomyelinase to create ceramide. The only route by which sphingolipids are converted to non-sphingolipids is through sphingosine-1-phosphate lyase. This forms ethanolamine phosphate and hexadecenal.

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