AbstractIn the current pandemic caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2; COVID-19), a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms is essential to reduce morbidity and mortality and treat post-COVID-19 disease. Here, we analyzed alterations of sphingolipids and their metabolizing enzymes in 125 men and 74 women tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and hospitalized with mild, moderate or severe symptoms or after convalescence.The activities of acid and neutral sphingomyelinases (ASM, NSM), which hydrolyze sphingomyelin to ceramide, were significantly increased in COVID-19 patients, while the activity of neutral ceramidase (NC), which hydrolyzes ceramide to sphingosine, was reduced. These alterations could each contribute to elevated ceramide levels in patients. Accordingly, liquid chromatography tandem-mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) yielded increased levels of ceramides 16:0 and 18:0 with highest levels in severely affected patients and similar effects for dihydroceramides 16:0 and 18:0, whereas levels of (dihydro-)ceramides 24:0 were reduced. Furthermore, sphingomyelin 20:0; 22:0 and 24:0 as substrates of ASM and NSM as well as their dihydrosphingomyelin counterparts were reduced in patients as well as sphingosine-1-phosphate further downstream of NC activity. Effects of NSM, NC, ceramides and sphingomyelins remained significant after Bonferroni correction. SARS-CoV-2 antibody levels in convalescent patients were associated with age but none of the sphingolipid parameters. Based on our data, COVID-19 is associated with a dysregulation of sphingolipid homeostasis in a severity-dependent manner, particularly focused around a reduction of sphingomyelins and an accumulation of ceramides by increased enzyme activities leading to ceramide elevation (ASM, NSM) combined with a decreased activity of enzymes (NC) reducing ceramide levels. The potential of a combined sphingolipid/enzyme pattern as a diagnostic and prognostic marker and therapeutic target deserves further exploration.