Principles of lysosomal membrane digestion: stimulation of sphingolipid degradation by sphingolipid activator proteins and anionic lysosomal lipids

Annu Rev Cell Dev Biol. 2005;21:81-103. doi: 10.1146/annurev.cellbio.21.122303.120013.


Sphingolipids and glycosphingolipids are membrane components of eukaryotic cell surfaces. Their constitutive degradation takes place on the surface of intra-endosomal and intra-lysosomal membrane structures. During endocytosis, these intra-lysosomal membranes are formed and prepared for digestion by a lipid-sorting process during which their cholesterol content decreases and the concentration of the negatively charged bis(monoacylglycero)phosphate (BMP)--erroneously also called lysobisphosphatidic acid (LBPA)--increases. Glycosphingolipid degradation requires the presence of water-soluble acid exohydrolases, sphingolipid activator proteins, and anionic phospholipids like BMP. The lysosomal degradation of sphingolipids with short hydrophilic head groups requires the presence of sphingolipid activator proteins (SAPs). These are the saposins (Saps) and the GM2 activator protein. Sphingolipid activator proteins are membrane-perturbing and lipid-binding proteins with different specificities for the bound lipid and the activated enzyme-catalyzed reaction. Their inherited deficiency leads to sphingolipid- and membrane-storage diseases. Sphingolipid activator proteins not only facilitate glycolipid digestion but also act as glycolipid transfer proteins facilitating the association of lipid antigens with immunoreceptors of the CD1 family.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anions / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Membranes / metabolism*
  • Lysosomes / chemistry
  • Lysosomes / metabolism*
  • Membrane Lipids / chemistry
  • Membrane Lipids / metabolism*
  • Models, Biological
  • Sphingolipid Activator Proteins / chemistry
  • Sphingolipid Activator Proteins / metabolism*
  • Sphingolipids / chemistry
  • Sphingolipids / metabolism*


  • Anions
  • Membrane Lipids
  • Sphingolipid Activator Proteins
  • Sphingolipids