These pages comprise a series of documents describing the structures, occurrence, biochemistry and functions of the sphingolipids, including sphingoid bases, ceramides, sphingo-phospholipids, such as sphingomyelin, and the complex glycosphingolipids.

The basic building block of a sphingolipid is a sphingoid base such as sphingosine, linked via an amide bond to a long-chain fatty acid to form a ceramide. Both the base and the ceramide molecule have important biological activities in their own right, but they can also be linked via the terminal hydroxyl group to phosphate or to carbohydrate moieties, which can be highly complex. All of these are important as membrane constituents, in the specialized micro-domains termed 'rafts'. In addition, they may have other vital biological functions, for example as cellular messengers or as part of the immune system.

The webpages dealing with phosphonolipids and sulfonolipids are also relevant here.

These essays are aimed at generalists - not experts in particular disciplines - but it is hoped that the reading lists at the end of each will provide for those who require a more specialized knowledge. PDF files are available for download at the end of web-pages. There are shortcuts to a full list of individual lipid classes here.

Updated January 20, 2012