Sphingolipids are a specialized group of lipids essential to the composition of the plasma membrane of many cell types; however, they are primarily localized within the nervous system. The amphipathic properties of sphingolipids enable their participation in a variety of intricate metabolic pathways. Sphingoid bases are the building blocks for all sphingolipid derivatives, comprising a complex class of lipids. The biosynthesis and catabolism of these lipids play an integral role in small- and large-scale body functions, including participation in membrane domains and signalling; cell proliferation, death, migration, and invasiveness; inflammation; and central nervous system development. Recently, sphingolipids have become the focus of several fields of research in the medical and biological sciences, as these bioactive lipids have been identified as potent signalling and messenger molecules. Sphingolipids are now being exploited as therapeutic targets for several pathologies. Here we present a comprehensive review of the structure and metabolism of sphingolipids and their many functional roles within the cell. In addition, we highlight the role of sphingolipids in several pathologies, including inflammatory disease, cystic fibrosis, cancer, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, and lysosomal storage disorders.
Keywords: biosynthesis; ceramide; glycosphingolipids; glycosyl hydrolase; inflammation; lysosomal storage disorder; neurodegeneration; sphingolipid; sphingosine-1-phosphate.