In the present study we have characterized mammalian sphingosine-1-phosphate phosphohydrolase (SPP1), an enzyme that specifically dephosphorylates sphingosine 1-phosphate (S1P) and which differs from previously described lipid phosphate phosphohydrolases. Based on sequence homology to murine SPP1, we cloned the human homolog. Transfection of human embryonic kidney 293 and Chinese hamster ovary cells with murine or human SPP1 resulted in marked increases in SPP1 activity in membrane fractions that were used to examine its enzymological properties. Unlike other known type 2 lipid phosphate phosphohydrolases (LPPs), but similar to the yeast orthologs, mammalian SPP1s are highly specific toward long chain sphingoid base phosphates and degrade S1P, dihydro-S1P, and phyto-S1P. SPP1 exhibited apparent Michaelis-Menten kinetics with S1P as substrate with an apparent K(m) of 38.5 microm and optimum activity at pH 7.5. Similar to other LPPs, SPP1 activity was also independent of any cation requirements, including Mg(2+), and was not inhibited by EDTA but was markedly inhibited by NaF and Zn(2+). However, SPP1 has some significantly different enzymological properties than the LPPs: the aliphatic cation propanolol, which is an effective inhibitor of type 1 phosphatidate phosphohydrolase activities and is only modestly effective as an inhibitor of LPPs, is a potent inhibitor of SPP1; the activity was partially sensitive to N-ethylmaleimide but not to the thioreactive compound iodoacetamide; and importantly, low concentrations of Triton X-100 and other non-ionic detergents were strongly inhibitory. Thus, in agreement with Cluster analysis which shows that outside of the consensus motif there is very little homology between SPP1s and the other type 2 lipid phosphohydrolases, SPP1s are significantly different and divergent from the mammalian LPPs.