Sphingosine kinase A is a pleiotropic and essential enzyme for Leishmania survival and virulence

Ou Zhang, Fong-Fu Hsu, Wei Xu, Mattie Pawlowic, Kai Zhang (Lead / Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Sphingosine kinase is a key enzyme in sphingolipid metabolism, catalysing the conversion of sphingosine or dihydrosphingosine into sphingosine-1-phosphate or dihydrosphingosine-1-phosphate respectively. In mammals, sphingosine-1-phosphate is a powerful signalling molecule regulating cell growth, differentiation, apoptosis and immunity. Functions of sphingosine kinase or sphingosine-1-phosphate in pathogenic protozoans are virtually unknown. While most organisms possess two closely related sphingosine kinases, only one sphingosine kinase homologue (SKa) can be identified in Leishmania, which are vector-borne protozoan parasites responsible for leishmaniasis. LeishmaniaSKa is a large, cytoplasmic enzyme capable of phosphorylating both sphingosine and dihydrosphingosine. Remarkably, deletion of SKa leads to catastrophic defects in both the insect stage and mammalian stage of Leishmania parasites. Genetic and biochemical analyses demonstrate that proper expression of SKa is essential for Leishmania parasites to remove toxic metabolites, to survive stressful conditions, and to cause disease in mice. Therefore, SKa is a pleiotropic enzyme with vital roles throughout the life cycle of Leishmania. The essentiality of SKa and its apparent divergence from mammalian counterparts suggests that this enzyme can be selectively targeted to reduce Leishmania infection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)489-501
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Microbiology
Issue number3
Early online date16 Sept 2013
Publication statusPublished - 28 Oct 2013


  • Animals
  • Antifungal Agents/pharmacology
  • DNA Replication
  • DNA, Protozoan/analysis
  • Ethanolamine/pharmacology
  • Fatty Acids, Monounsaturated/pharmacology
  • Genes, Protozoan
  • Leishmania/enzymology
  • Leishmaniasis/parasitology
  • Lysophospholipids/antagonists & inhibitors
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Phosphotransferases (Alcohol Group Acceptor)/genetics
  • Sphingosine/analogs & derivatives
  • Virulence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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