There are two isoforms of sphingosine kinase (SphK) that catalyze the formation of sphingosine 1-phosphate, a potent sphingolipid mediator. Whereas SphK1 stimulates growth and survival, here we show that SphK2 enhanced apoptosis in diverse cell types and also suppressed cellular proliferation. Apoptosis was preceded by cytochrome c release and activation of caspase-3. SphK2-induced apoptosis was independent of activation of sphingosine 1-phosphate receptors. Sequence analysis revealed that SphK2 contains a 9-amino acid motif similar to that present in BH3-only proteins, a proapoptotic subgroup of the Bcl-2 family. As with other BH3-only proteins, co-immunoprecipitation demonstrated that SphK2 interacted with Bcl-x L. Moreover, site-directed mutation of Leu-219, the conserved leucine residue present in all BH3 domains, markedly suppressed SphK2-induced apoptosis. Hence, the apoptotic effect of SphK2 might be because of its putative BH3 domain.
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