Expression of Ceramide Synthase 6 Transcriptionally Activates Acid Ceramidase in a c-Jun N-Terminal Kinase (JNK)-Dependent Manner [Signal Transduction]

April 3rd, 2015 by Tirodkar, T. S., Lu, P., Bai, A., Scheffel, M. J., Gencer, S., Garrett-Mayer, E., Bielawska, A., Ogretmen, B., Voelkel-Johnson, C.

A family of six ceramide synthases with distinct but overlapping substrate specificities is responsible for generation of ceramides with acyl chains ranging from ~14-26 carbons. Ceramide synthase 6 (CerS6) preferentially generates C14- and C16-ceramides and we have previously shown that downregulation of this enzyme decreases apoptotic susceptibility. In this study we further evaluated how increased CerS6 expression impacts sphingolipid composition and metabolism. Overexpression of CerS6 in HT29 colon cancer cells resulted in increased apoptotic susceptibility and preferential generation of C16-ceramide, which occurred at the expense of very long chain, saturated ceramides. These changes were also reflected in sphingomyelin composition. HT-CerS6 cells had increased intracellular levels of sphingosine, which is generated by ceramidases upon hydrolysis of ceramide. qRT-PCR analysis revealed that only expression of acid ceramidase (ASAH1) was increased. The increase in acid ceramidase was confirmed by expression and activity analyses. Pharmacological inhibition of JNK (SP600125) or curcumin reduced transcriptional upregulation of acid ceramidase. Using an acid ceramidase promoter driven luciferase reporter plasmid, we demonstrated that CerS1 has no effect on transcriptional activation of acid ceramidase and that CerS2 slightly but significantly decreased the luciferase signal. Similar to CerS6, overexpression of CerS3-5 resulted in an approximately 2-fold increase in luciferase reporter gene activity. Exogenous ceramide failed to induce reporter activity, while the CerS inhibitor and a catalytically inactive mutant of CerS6 failed to reduce it. Taken together, these results suggest that increased expression of CerS6 can mediate transcriptional activation of acid ceramidase in a JNK-dependent manner that is independent of CerS6 activity.
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