Comparative sphingolipidomics of disease-causing trypanosomatids reveal unique lifecycle- and taxonomy-specific lipid chemistries

Sci Rep. 2017 Oct 19;7(1):13617. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-13931-x.


Trypanosomatids are parasitic protozoa which cause a spectrum of diseases, including trypanosomiasis and leishmaniasis, affecting millions of humans and animals worldwide. The surface of most protozoan parasites is heavily decorated with lipids and lipid-anchored molecules, forming protective barriers and acting as virulence factors during infection. Sphingolipids (SP) are major components of eukaryotic biomembranes, which play important roles in structural integrity, energy homeostasis and signaling. However, the precise chemical composition of SP in pathogens as well as their biochemical pathways and functions remain poorly characterized. Here, we present the first system-scale analyses of SP found in a panel of 7 trypanosomatids, including Leishmania donovani, Trypanosoma brucei and Trypanosoma cruzi. We characterized the structure of aminoethylphosphonate-containing ceramides, which are found exclusively in stercorarian Trypanosoma. Employing the sensitive and semi-quantitative sphingolipidomics approach that we developed, we report the detection of over 300 molecular species of SP, and identified unique metabolic signatures which serve as discriminants of the pathogens based on their taxonomy and lifecycle stages. The deep sphingolipidome presented here is an important biochemical and technological resource for future works to dissect SP metabolism and functions in these medically and agriculturally relevant systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ceramides / analysis
  • Ceramides / metabolism
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Humans
  • Leishmania donovani / growth & development
  • Leishmania donovani / metabolism*
  • Life Cycle Stages
  • Protozoan Infections / metabolism
  • Protozoan Infections / parasitology*
  • Protozoan Infections / pathology
  • Sphingolipids / analysis
  • Sphingolipids / metabolism*
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / metabolism*
  • Trypanosoma cruzi / metabolism*


  • Ceramides
  • Sphingolipids