Visualizing bioactive ceramides

Chem Phys Lipids. 2018 Nov:216:142-151. doi: 10.1016/j.chemphyslip.2018.09.013. Epub 2018 Sep 25.


In the last 30 years, ceramides have been found to mediate a myriad of biological processes. Ceramides have been recognized as bioactive molecules and their metabolizing enzymes are attractive targets in cancer therapy and other diseases. The molecular mechanism of action of cellular ceramides are still not fully established, with insights into roles through modification of lipid rafts, creation of ceramide platforms, ceramide channels, or through regulation of direct protein effectors such as protein phosphatases and kinases. Recently, the 'Many Ceramides' hypothesis focuses on distinct pools of subcellular ceramides and ceramide species as potential defined bioactive entities. Traditional methods that measure changes in ceramide levels in the whole cell, such as mass spectrometry, fluorescent ceramide analogues, and ceramide antibodies, fail to differentiate specific bioactive species at the subcellular level. However, a few ceramide binding proteins have been reported, and a smaller subgroup within these, have been shown to translocate to ceramide-enriched membranes, revealing these localized pools of bioactive ceramides. In this review we want to discuss and consolidate these works and explore the possibility of defining these binding proteins as new tools are emerging to visualize bioactive ceramides in cells. Our goal is to encourage the scientific community to explore these ceramide partners, to improve techniques to refine the list of these binding partners, making possible the identification of specific domains that recognize and bind ceramides to be used to visualize the 'Many Ceramides' in the cell.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ceramides / analysis*
  • Ceramides / metabolism*
  • Humans


  • Ceramides