Sphingolipids: important players in multiple sclerosis

Cell Physiol Biochem. 2014;34(1):111-8. doi: 10.1159/000362988. Epub 2014 Jun 16.


Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is the most common cause for permanent disability in young adults. Current pathophysiological understanding has identified an autoaggressive immune reaction with infiltration of immune cells into the central nervous system and local inflammatory and demyelinating reactions. The current therapy focuses on a modulation or suppression of immune functions. Sphingolipids, main components of nervous tissue, have been linked to MS already 60 years ago with the description of an unusual myelin lipid distribution in diseased patients. There is tremendous information developing on the role of different sphingolipids in MS. Antibodies against sphingomyelin, sulfatide or galacosylceramide have been detected in serum or CSF of MS patients, although up to now, this knowledge did not find its way into clinical use. Ceramide and the enzymes linked to its production have been described to play a pivotal role in oligendrocyte damage and demyelination. Nowadays, especially sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P) is in the focus of pathophysiological research and therapy development. A S1P analogue, FTY720, is a widely distributed therapy against relapsing-remitting MS, attenuating the emigration of activated, autoreactive lymphocytes from lymph nodes, thereby preventing new inflammatory infiltration into the central nervous system. Beside, there is more and more evidence, that especially S1P receptors on oligodendrocytes and astrocytes are involved in demyelination processes and subsequent axonal degeneration, important features of chonic progressive MS disease course. Further information and research on the manifold role of sphingolipids are needed to prepare the ground for further clinical trials. This review focuses on the current knowledge of the role of sphingolipids in MS and describes the current therapeutical implications.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ceramides / metabolism
  • Fingolimod Hydrochloride
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Lysophospholipids / chemistry
  • Lysophospholipids / metabolism
  • Multiple Sclerosis / drug therapy
  • Multiple Sclerosis / metabolism*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / pathology
  • Propylene Glycols / therapeutic use
  • Sphingolipids / metabolism*
  • Sphingomyelin Phosphodiesterase / metabolism
  • Sphingomyelins / metabolism
  • Sphingosine / analogs & derivatives
  • Sphingosine / chemistry
  • Sphingosine / metabolism
  • Sphingosine / therapeutic use


  • Ceramides
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Lysophospholipids
  • Propylene Glycols
  • Sphingolipids
  • Sphingomyelins
  • sphingosine 1-phosphate
  • Sphingomyelin Phosphodiesterase
  • Fingolimod Hydrochloride
  • Sphingosine