Cryo-EM structure of human sphingomyelin synthase and its mechanistic implications for sphingomyelin synthesis

Nat Struct Mol Biol. 2024 Feb 22. doi: 10.1038/s41594-024-01237-2. Online ahead of print.


Sphingomyelin (SM) has key roles in modulating mammalian membrane properties and serves as an important pool for bioactive molecules. SM biosynthesis is mediated by the sphingomyelin synthase (SMS) family, comprising SMS1, SMS2 and SMS-related (SMSr) members. Although SMS1 and SMS2 exhibit SMS activity, SMSr possesses ceramide phosphoethanolamine synthase activity. Here we determined the cryo-electron microscopic structures of human SMSr in complexes with ceramide, diacylglycerol/phosphoethanolamine and ceramide/phosphoethanolamine (CPE). The structures revealed a hexameric arrangement with a reaction chamber located between the transmembrane helices. Within this structure, a catalytic pentad E-H/D-H-D was identified, situated at the interface between the lipophilic and hydrophilic segments of the reaction chamber. Additionally, the study unveiled the two-step synthesis process catalyzed by SMSr, involving PE-PLC (phosphatidylethanolamine-phospholipase C) hydrolysis and the subsequent transfer of the phosphoethanolamine moiety to ceramide. This research provides insights into the catalytic mechanism of SMSr and expands our understanding of sphingolipid metabolism.