Sphingolipids comprise a wide variety of molecules containing a sphingoid long-chain base that can be N-acylated. These lipids are particularly abundant in the central nervous system, being membrane components of neurons as well as non-neuronal cells. Direct evidence that these brain lipids play critical functions in brain physiology is illustrated by the dramatic consequences of genetic disturbances of their metabolism. Inherited defects of both synthesis and catabolism of sphingolipids are now identified in humans. These monogenic disorders are due to mutations in the genes encoding for the enzymes that catalyze either the formation or degradation of simple sphingolipids such as ceramides, or complex sphingolipids like glycolipids. They cause varying degrees of central nervous system dysfunction, quite similarly to the neurological disorders induced in mice by gene disruption of the corresponding enzymes. Herein, the enzyme deficiencies and metabolic alterations that underlie these diseases are reviewed. Their possible pathophysiological mechanisms and the functions played by sphingolipids one can deduce from these conditions are discussed. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled Brain Lipids.
Keywords: Central nervous system; Ceramide; Ganglioside; Genetic defects; Glycolipid; Sphingolipidoses.
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