Sphingolipids typically cover the exoplasmic leaflet of the plasma membrane of eukaryotic cells. They differ from the more abundant glycerophospholipids in that they contain ceramide instead of diacylglycerol as a hydrophobic anchor. Why did nature choose to invent this complex class of lipids, and why do eukaryotic cells follow elaborate remodelling pathways in order to generate dozens to hundreds of different molecular species of sphingolipid, depending on cell type? Yeast may, once again, serve as a model to dissect sphingolipid function at various levels. Almost the complete pathway for sphingolipid synthesis in yeast has been uncovered during the past two decades. More recently, key enzymes in sphingolipid degradation and signalling have been identified. Together with a wealth of genetic data obtained from the characterization of various suppressor mutants, this information now allows for an unprecedented analysis of sphingolipid function in this organism. This overview summarizes recent data on sphingolipid function in cell signalling, their role in the heat-stress response and Ca(2+) homeostasis, and addresses their function in transport of glycosylphosphatidylinositol-anchored proteins.
Copyright 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.