Background: Acid sphingomyelinase (ASM) is a key regulator of ceramide-dependent signalling pathways. Among others, activation of ASM can be induced by CD95 or cytokine signalling and by cellular stress resulting from inflammation or infection. Increased ASM activity was observed in a variety of human diseases including inflammatory and neuropsychiatric disorders. We hypothesized that basal ASM activity might influence the susceptibility for common human diseases.
Methods: The general health condition of 100 young people was assessed using a questionnaire. The ASM polymorphism rs1050239 (c.1522G>A; encoding p.G508R) was determined from genomic DNA. Activities of secretory (S-) and lysosomal (L-) ASM were measured in blood plasma and peripheral blood cells respectively.
Results: The polymorphism rs1050239 was significantly associated with self-reported allergy (p=4.68×10(-4); adjusted p-value for multiple testing 0.007). Allergy was more prevalent in carriers of the minor A allele compared to non-carriers (p=0.00015; odds ratio=6.5, 95% CI 2.15-21.7). S-ASM activity was significantly associated with rs1050239 (p=5.3×10(-7)) and decreased with the number of A alleles in a gene-dosage dependent manner. In allergic patients, S-ASM activity was moderately decreased (p=0.034). L-ASM activity was significantly lower in subjects homozygous for the minor A allele (p=0.025) but not different between allergic and non-allergic subjects (p=0.318).
Conclusion: Our analysis provides evidence for an involvement of ASM in the pathophysiology of allergy, which is in line with previous reports addressing the role of sphingolipids in this disorder. Further studies should clarify the mechanism linking rs1050239 to allergy. The ASM pathway might be useful for predicting allergic disposition and disease course and as a therapeutic target.