This comprehensive review was necessitated by recent observations suggesting that sphingomyelin and derivatives may serve second messenger functions. It has attempted to remain true to the theme of cellular signalling. Hence, it has focussed on the lipids involved primarily with respect to their metabolism and properties in mammalian systems. The enzymology involved has been emphasized. An attempt was made to define directions in which signals may be flowing. However, the evidence presented to date is insufficient to conclusively designate the mechanisms of stimulated lipid metabolism. Hence, the proposed pathways must be viewed as preliminary. Further, the biologic functions of these lipids is for the most part uncertain. Thus, it is difficult to presently integrate this sphingomyelin pathway into the greater realm of cell biology. Nevertheless, the present evidence appears to suggest that a sphingomyelin pathway is likely to possess important bioregulatory functions. Hopefully, interest in this novel pathway will grow and allow a more complete understanding of the roles of these sphingolipids in physiology and pathology.