In the model host caenorhabditis elegans, sphingosine-1-phosphate-mediated signaling increases immunity toward human opportunistic bacteria

Kiho Lee, Iliana Escobar, Yeeun Jang, Wooseong Kim, Frederick M. Ausubel, Eleftherios Mylonakis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Sphingosine-1-phophate (S1P) is a sphingolipid-derived signaling molecule that controls diverse cellular functions including cell growth, homeostasis, and stress responses. In a variety of metazoans, cytosolic S1P is transported into the extracellular space where it activates S1P receptors in a concentration-dependent manner. In the free-living nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, the spin-2 gene, which encodes a S1P transporter, is activated during Gram-positive or Gram-negative bacterial infection of the intestine. However, the role during infection of spin-2 and three additional genes in the C. elegans genome encoding other putative S1P transporters has not been elucidated. Here, we report an evolutionally conserved function for S1P and a non-canonical role for S1P transporters in the C. elegans immune response to bacterial pathogens. We found that mutations in the sphingosine kinase gene (sphk-1) or in the S1P transporter genes spin-2 or spin-3 decreased nematode survival after infection with Pseudomonas aeruginosa or Enterococcus faecalis. In contrast to spin-2 and spin-3, mutating spin-1 leads to an increase in resistance to P. aeruginosa. Consistent with these results, when wild-type C. elegans were supplemented with extracellular S1P, we found an increase in their lifespan when challenged with P. aeruginosa and E. faecalis. In comparison, spin-2 and spin-3 mutations suppressed the ability of S1P to rescue the worms from pathogen-mediated killing, whereas the spin-1 mutation had no effect on the immune-enhancing activity of S1P. S1P demonstrated no antimicrobial activity toward P. aeruginosa and Escherichia coli and only minimal activity against E. faecalis MMH594 (40 µM). These data suggest that spin-2 and spin-3, on the one hand, and spin-1, on the other hand, transport S1P across cellular membranes in opposite directions. Finally, the immune modulatory effect of S1P was diminished in C. elegans sek-1 and pmk-1 mutants, suggesting that the immunomodulatory effects of S1P are mediated by the p38 MAPK signaling pathway.

Original languageEnglish
Article number7813
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number21
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by the National Institutes of Health grant P01AI083214 to F.M.A. and E.M. We thank the Caenorhabditis Genetics Center (CGC), which is funded by the NIH Office of Research Infrastructure Programs (P40 OD010440).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Caenorhabditis elegans
  • Immunity
  • Pathogenic bacteria
  • S1P
  • S1P kinase
  • S1P transporters
  • Sphingosine-1-phosphate


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