A fluorescence-based, high-performance liquid chromatographic assay to determine acid sphingomyelinase activity and diagnose types A and B Niemann-Pick disease

Anal Biochem. 2003 Mar 1;314(1):116-20. doi: 10.1016/s0003-2697(02)00629-2.


Acid sphingomyelinase (ASM; sphingomyelin phosphodiesterase, EC is the lysosomal enzyme that hydrolyzes sphingomyelin (SPM) to phosphorylcholine and ceramide. An inherited deficiency of ASM activity results in Types A and B Niemann-Pick disease (NPD). In this study we report a new assay method to detect ASM activity and diagnose NPD using the fluorescent substrate BODIPY C12-SPM and reverse-phase high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). The reaction product, BODIPY C12-ceramide (B12Cer), could be clearly and efficiently separated from the substrate within 4 min using a reverse-phase column (Aquasil C18, Keystone Scientific). Femtomole quantities of B12Cer could be detected in as little as 1.0 micro l of human plasma, providing a sensitive measure of ASM activity. The mean ASM activity in human plasma from NPD patients (36 pmol/ml/h) was only 2.7% of that in normal plasma (1334 pmol/ml/h), confirming the specificity and diagnostic value of this new assay method. Importantly, the mean ASM activity in human plasma from NPD carriers (258.3 pmol/ml/h) also was significantly reduced (19.5% of normal). The ranges of ASM plasma activities in NPD patients (N=19), NPD carriers (N=11), and normal subjects (N=15) were 2.5-97.3, 108-551, and 1030-2124 pmol/ml/h, respectively. Based on these results, we suggest that this fluorescence-based HPLC assay method is a reliable, rapid, and highly sensitive technique to determine ASM activity and that plasma is a very reliable and simple source for the accurate diagnosis of NPD patients and carriers based on ASM activity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid / methods*
  • Fluorescence
  • Humans
  • Niemann-Pick Diseases / blood*
  • Niemann-Pick Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Reference Standards
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Sphingomyelin Phosphodiesterase / blood*


  • Sphingomyelin Phosphodiesterase