Handbook of experimental pharmacology

Sphingolipids in psychiatric disorders and pain syndromes.

PMID 23563670


Despite the high prevalence and devastating impact of psychiatric disorders, little is known about their etiopathology. In this review, we provide an overview on the participation of sphingolipids and enzymes responsible for their metabolism in mechanisms underlying psychiatric disorders. We focus on the pathway from sphingomyelin to proapoptotic ceramide and the subsequent metabolism of ceramide to sphingosine, which is in turn phosphorylated to yield anti-apoptotic sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P).The sphingomyelinase/ceramide system has been linked to effects of reactive oxygen species and proinflammatory cytokines in the central nervous system as well as to synaptic transmission. Compared to ubiquitously expressed acid sphingomyelinase, acid and neutral ceramidase and neutral sphingomyelinase are highly active in brain regions. Depressed patients show elevated plasma ceramide levels and increased activities of acid sphingomyelinase which is functionally inhibited by many anti-depressive drugs. Exposure to alcohol is associated with an activation of acid and neutral sphingomyelinase observed in cell culture, mouse models and in alcohol-dependent patients and with increased concentrations of ceramide in various organs.Levels of sphingomyelin and ceramide are altered in erythrocytes and post-mortem brain tissues of schizophrenic patients in addition to changes in expression patterns for serine palmitoyltransferase and acid ceramidase leading to impaired myelination. After induction of anxiety-like behavior in animal models, higher serum levels of S1P were reported to lead to neurodegeneration. Correspondingly, S1P infusion appeared to increase anxiety-like behavior. Significantly upregulated levels of the endogenous ceramide catabolite N,N-dimethylsphingosine were observed in rat models of allodynia. Conversely, rats injected intrathecally with N,N-dimethylsphingosine developed mechanical allodynia. Moreover, S1P has been implicated in spinal nociceptive processing.The increasing interest in lipidomics and improved analytical methods led to growing insight into the connection between psychiatric and neurological disorders and sphingolipid metabolism and may once provide new targets and strategies for therapeutic intervention.