Roles of ceramide and sphingolipids in pancreatic β-cell function and dysfunction

Islets. May-Jun 2012;4(3):177-87. doi: 10.4161/isl.20102.


Recent technical advances have re-invigorated the study of sphingolipid metabolism in general, and helped to highlight the varied and important roles that sphingolipids play in pancreatic β-cells. Sphingolipid metabolites such as ceramide, glycosphingolipids, sphingosine 1-phosphate and gangliosides modulate many β-cell signaling pathways and processes implicated in β-cell diabetic disease such as apoptosis, β-cell cytokine secretion, ER-to-golgi vesicular trafficking, islet autoimmunity and insulin gene expression. They are particularly relevant to lipotoxicity. Moreover, the de novo synthesis of sphingolipids occurs on many subcellular membranes, in parallel to secretory vesicle formation, traffic and granule maturation events. Indeed, the composition of the plasma membrane, determined by the activity of neutral sphingomyelinases, affects β-cell excitability and potentially insulin exocytosis while another glycosphingolipid, sulfatide, determines the stability of insulin crystals in granules. Most importantly, sphingolipid metabolism on internal membranes is also strongly implicated in regulating β-cell apoptosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ceramides / metabolism*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / metabolism*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / pathology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / pathology
  • Humans
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Sphingolipids / metabolism*


  • Ceramides
  • Sphingolipids