Sphingolipid activator proteins: proteins with complex functions in lipid degradation and skin biogenesis

Glycobiology. 2001 Jun;11(6):81R-90R. doi: 10.1093/glycob/11.6.81r.


Sphingolipid activator proteins (SAPs or saposins) are essential cofactors for the lysosomal degradation of membrane-anchored sphingolipids. Four of the five known proteins of this class, SAPs A--D, derive from a single precursor protein and show high homology, whereas the fifth protein, GM2AP, is larger and displays a different secondary structure. Although the main function of all five proteins is assumed to lie in the activation of lipid degradation, their specificities and modes of action seem to differ considerably. It has recently been demonstrated that the action of the proteins is highly enhanced by the presence of acidic lipids in the target membranes. These results have some interesting implications for the topology of lysosomal degradation of lipids and may provide new insights into the function of these interesting proteins, which are ubiquitously expressed in the different tissues of the body. Recent studies indicated that the SAPs play an important role in the biogenesis of the epidermal water barrier, which has been demonstrated by the analysis of the skin phenotype displayed by SAP-knockout mice. The results obtained so far have led to some new insights into the formation of the epidermal water permeability barrier and may lead to a better understanding of this complex process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Epidermis / growth & development*
  • Glycoproteins / metabolism*
  • Lysosomes / metabolism*
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena
  • Sphingolipids / metabolism*


  • Glycoproteins
  • Sphingolipids