Ceramidases: regulators of cellular responses mediated by ceramide, sphingosine, and sphingosine-1-phosphate

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2008 Sep;1781(9):424-34. doi: 10.1016/j.bbalip.2008.06.002. Epub 2008 Jun 13.


Ceramidases catalyze hydrolysis of ceramides to generate sphingosine (SPH), which is phosphorylated to form sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P). Ceramide, SPH, and S1P are bioactive lipids that mediate cell proliferation, differentiation, apoptosis, adhesion, and migration. Presently, 5 human ceramidases encoded by 5 distinct genes have been cloned: acid ceramidase (AC), neutral ceramidase (NC), alkaline ceramidase 1 (ACER1), alkaline ceramidase 2 (ACER2), and alkaline ceramidase 3 (ACER3). Each human ceramidase has a mouse counterpart. AC, NC, and ACER1-3 have maximal activities in acidic, neutral, and alkaline environments, respectively. ACER1-3 have similar protein sequences but no homology to AC and NC. AC and NC also have distinct protein sequences. The human AC (hAC) was implicated in Farber disease, and hAC may be important for cell survival. The mouse AC (mAC) is needed for early embryo survival. NC is protective against inflammatory cytokines, and the mouse NC (mNC) is required for the catabolism of ceramides in the digestive tract. ACER1 is critical in mediating cell differentiation by controlling the generation of SPH and S1P and that ACER2's role in cell proliferation and survival depends on its expression or the cell type in which it is found. Here, we discuss the role of each ceramidase in regulating cellular responses mediated by ceramides, SPH, and S1P.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acid Ceramidase
  • Alkaline Ceramidase
  • Amidohydrolases / chemistry
  • Amidohydrolases / genetics
  • Amidohydrolases / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Ceramidases
  • Ceramides / chemistry
  • Ceramides / metabolism*
  • Chromosomes / genetics
  • Humans
  • Lysophospholipids / chemistry
  • Lysophospholipids / metabolism*
  • Neutral Ceramidase
  • Sphingosine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Sphingosine / chemistry
  • Sphingosine / metabolism*


  • Ceramides
  • Lysophospholipids
  • Amidohydrolases
  • ACER1 protein, human
  • ACER2 protein, human
  • ASAH1 protein, human
  • ASAH2 protein, human
  • Acer1 protein, mouse
  • Acid Ceramidase
  • Alkaline Ceramidase
  • Asah1 protein, mouse
  • Asah2 protein, mouse
  • Ceramidases
  • Neutral Ceramidase
  • Sphingosine