An enzymatic assay for quantifying sphingomyelin in tissues and plasma from humans and mice with Niemann-Pick disease

Xingxuan He, Fei Chen, Shimon Gatt, Edward H. Schuchman

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18 Scopus citations


Sphingomyelin is an important lipid component of cell membranes and lipoproteins which can be hydrolyzed by sphingomyelinases into ceramide and phosphorylcholine. The type A and B forms of Niemann-Pick disease (NPD) are lipid storage disorders due to the deficient activity of the enzyme acid sphingomyelinase, and the resultant accumulation of sphingomyelin in cells and tissues. In this paper we report a new, enzyme-based method to quantify the levels of sphingomyelin in tissues and plasma of normal individuals and NPD patients. The method utilizes sphingomyelinase from Bacillus cereus to completely hydrolyze the sphingomyelin into ceramide. Quantification of the sphingomyelin-derived ceramide is accomplished using Escherichia coli diacylglycerol (DAG) kinase and [γ-32P]ATP. The resulting [32P]ceramide is quantified using a phosphor-imager system following TLC separation. This procedure allowed quantification of sphingomyelin over a broad range from 10 pmol to 1 nmol. To validate this assay we quantified sphingomyelin in plasma and tissues obtained from normal and NPD mice and humans. The sphingomyelin content in adult homozygous (-/-) or heterozygous (+/-) NPD mouse plasma was significantly elevated compared to that of normal mice (up to twofold). Moreover, the accumulated sphingomyelin in the tissues of NPD mice was 4 to 40 times higher than that in normal mice depending on the tissue analyzed. The sphingomyelin levels in plasma from several type B NPD patients also were significantly elevated compared to normal individuals of the same age. Based on these results we propose that this new, enzyme-based procedure can provide sensitive and reproducible sphingomyelin quantification in tissues and fluids from normal individuals and NPD patients. It could be a useful tool for the diagnosis of NPD and the evaluation of NPD treatment protocols, as well as for the study of ceramide-mediated apoptosis since the method provides the simultaneous determination of sphingomyelin and ceramide in the same lipid extract.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)204-211
Number of pages8
JournalAnalytical Biochemistry
Issue number2
StatePublished - 15 Jun 2001


  • Ceramide
  • Diacylglycerol
  • Diacylglycerol kinase
  • Niemann-Pick disease
  • Sphingomyelin


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