Ceramides from Natural Sources

Ceramides are fatty acid amides of sphingosine that function as precursors in the synthesis of sphingomyelin, glycosphingolipids, sphingosine-1-phosphate, and free sphingosine. Ceramides exert numerous biological effects, including induction of cell maturation, cell cycle arrest, terminal cell differentiation, cell senescence, and cell death.1 Two ceramide metabolites, sphingosine-1-phosphate and glucosylceramide, produce cell proliferation and other cellular functions.2 Because of their functions, ceramides have been investigated for use in cancer treatment.3 Other effects include producing reactive oxygen in mitochondria (followed by apoptosis) and stimulating phosphorylation of certain proteins (especially mitogen activated protein). Ceramides also stimulate some protein phosphatases (especially protein phosphatase 2A) making them important controllers of protein activity. 2-hydroxy fatty acid ceramides are especially abundant in nervous and epidermal cells where they are important for the permeability barrier function of the epidermis and the lipid organization in membranes. Farber disease is an accumulation of ceramides due to a lack of activity of the lysosomal enzyme acid ceramidase.


  1. N. S. Radin, “Killing tumours by ceramide-induced apoptosis: a critique of available drugs” Biochemical Journal, Vol. 371 pp. 243-256, 2003
  2. J. M. Hauser, B. M. Buehrer, and R. M. Bell “Role of ceramide in mitogenesis induced by exogenous sphingoid bases.” Journal of Biological Chemistry, Vol. 269 pp. 6803, 1994
  3. N. S. Radin, “Designing anticancer drugs via the achilles heel: ceramide, allylic ketones, and mitochondria” Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry, Vol. 11(10) pp. 2123-2142, 2003

Fatty Acid Composition of Matreya's Natural Lipids

Natural sphingolipids contain a heterogeneous mixture of fatty acids attached to the sphingosine moiety. The fatty acid composition is dependent on several factors including species, location within the organism, age, and environmental conditions. Normal variations in the fatty acids include chain-length, hydroxylation, and unsaturation. The percentages listed are only approximates as the actual amount will vary between lots.

Table for typical fatty acid content of products prepared from natural sources (PDF)