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Sphingolipids are structural components of endomembranes and function through their metabolites as bioactive regulators of cellular processes such as programmed cell death. A characteristic feature of plant sphingolipids is their high content of trihydroxy long-chain bases (LCBs) that are produced by the LCB C-4 hydroxylase. To determine the functional significance of trihydroxy LCBs in plants, T-DNA double mutants and RNA interference suppression lines were generated for the two Arabidopsis thaliana LCB C-4 hydroxylase genes Sphingoid Base Hydroxylase1 (SBH1) and SBH2. These plants displayed reductions in growth that were dependent on the content of trihydroxy LCBs in sphingolipids. Double sbh1 sbh2 mutants, which completely lacked trihydroxy LCBs, were severely dwarfed, did not progress from vegetative to reproductive growth, and had enhanced expression of programmed cell death associated–genes. Furthermore, the total content of sphingolipids on a dry weight basis increased as the relative amounts of trihydroxy LCBs decreased. In trihydroxy LCB–null mutants, sphingolipid content was ~2.5-fold higher than that in wild-type plants. Increases in sphingolipid content resulted from the accumulation of molecular species with C16 fatty acids rather than with very-long-chain fatty acids, which are more commonly enriched in plant sphingolipids, and were accompanied by decreases in amounts of C16-containing species of chloroplast lipids. Overall, these results indicate that trihydroxy LCB synthesis plays a central role in maintaining growth and mediating the total content and fatty acid composition of sphingolipids in plants.