Sphingolipids in human lens membranes: an update on their composition and possible biological implications

Chem Phys Lipids. 2004 Apr;129(1):1-20. doi: 10.1016/j.chemphyslip.2003.12.003.


The unique nature of the most abundant phospholipids in human lens membranes remained overlooked until the 1990s when it was possible to discern dihydrosphingomyelins (DHSMs) from the more common sphingomyelins (SMs). Unlike in other mammalian membranes, DHSMs comprise nearly half of the phospholipids in adult human lenses. Compared to SMs with a trans double bond between carbons 4 and 5 of the sphingoid backbone, the absence of this unsaturation site in DHSMs allows the participation of the OH group on C3 in intermolecular H-bonds and leads to stronger interlipid interactions with both neighboring DHSMs and cholesterol. Phospholipid compositional changes with age and lens region observed in mammals with various life spans and lens growth rates, suggest that the highest levels of DHSMs along with the lowest amounts of phosphatidylcholines and SMs are found in lenses with the lowest growth rate, namely human lenses. The participation of phospholipid metabolites in the control of mitosis and elongation of lens cells is plausible and deserves investigation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aging / physiology
  • Cell Membrane / chemistry*
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lens, Crystalline / chemistry*
  • Lens, Crystalline / growth & development
  • Lens, Crystalline / metabolism
  • Phosphatidylcholines / chemistry
  • Phosphatidylcholines / metabolism
  • Sphingolipids / chemistry*
  • Sphingolipids / metabolism*
  • Sphingomyelins / chemistry
  • Sphingomyelins / metabolism


  • 4,5-dihydrosphingomyelin
  • Phosphatidylcholines
  • Sphingolipids
  • Sphingomyelins