Histological analyses by matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization-imaging mass spectrometry reveal differential localization of sphingomyelin molecular species regulated by particular ceramide synthase in mouse brains

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2015 Dec;1851(12):1554-65. doi: 10.1016/j.bbalip.2015.09.004. Epub 2015 Oct 1.


Sphingomyelin (SM) is synthesized by SM synthase (SMS) from ceramide (Cer). SM regulates signaling pathways and maintains organ structure. SM comprises a sphingoid base and differing lengths of acyl-chains, but the importance of its various forms and regulatory synthases is not known. It has been reported that Cer synthase (CerS) has restricted substrate specificity, whereas SMS has no specificity for different lengths of acyl-chains. We hypothesized that the distribution of each SM molecular species was regulated by expression of the CerS family. Thus, we compared the distribution of SM species and CerS mRNA expression using molecular imaging. Spatial distribution of each SM molecular species was investigated using ultra-high-resolution imaging mass spectrometry (IMS). IMS revealed that distribution of SM molecular species varied according to the lengths of acyl-chains found in each brain section. Furthermore, a combination study using in situ hybridization and IMS revealed the spatial expression of CerS1 to be associated with the localization of SM (d18:1/18:0) in cell body-rich gray matter, and CerS2 to be associated with SM (d18:1/24:1) in myelin-rich white matter. Our study is the first comparison of spatial distribution between SM molecular species and CerS isoforms, and revealed their distinct association in the brain. These observations were demonstrated by suppression of CerS2 using siRNA in HepG2 cells; that is, siRNA for CerS2 specifically decreased C22 very long-chain fatty acid (VLCFA)- and C24 VLCFA-containing SMs. Thus, histological analyses of SM species by IMS could be a useful approach to consider their molecular function and regulative mechanism.

Keywords: Ceramide synthase; Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance; Imaging mass spectrometry; Sphingomyelin; Very long-chain fatty acid.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain Chemistry / physiology
  • Hep G2 Cells
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption-Ionization*
  • Sphingomyelins / biosynthesis*
  • Sphingosine N-Acyltransferase / metabolism*


  • Sphingomyelins
  • Cers2 protein, mouse
  • Sphingosine N-Acyltransferase