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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2006 Dec;1758(12):2027-36. Epub 2006 Nov 1.

A house divided: ceramide, sphingosine, and sphingosine-1-phosphate in programmed cell death.

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Division of General Internal Medicine, Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Administration Hospital, Charleston, SC 29401, USA.


Programmed cell death is an important physiological response to many forms of cellular stress. The signaling cascades that result in programmed cell death are as elaborate as those that promote cell survival, and it is clear that coordination of both protein- and lipid-mediated signals is crucial for proper cell execution. Sphingolipids are a large class of lipids whose diverse members share the common feature of a long-chain sphingoid base, e.g., sphingosine. Many sphingolipids have been shown to play essential roles in both death signaling and survival. Ceramide, an N-acylsphingosine, has been implicated in cell death following a myriad of cellular stresses. Sphingosine itself can induce cell death but via pathways both similar and dissimilar to those of ceramide. Sphingosine-1-phosphate, on the other hand, is an anti-apoptotic molecule that mediates a host of cellular effects antagonistic to those of its pro-apoptotic sphingolipid siblings. Extraordinarily, these lipid mediators are metabolically juxtaposed, suggesting that the regulation of their metabolism is of the utmost importance in determining cell fate. In this review, we briefly examine the role of ceramide, sphingosine, and sphingosine-1-phosphate in programmed cell death and highlight the potential roles that these lipids play in the pathway to apoptosis.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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