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Neuroscience. 2005;130(3):657-66.

Astroglial expression of ceramide in Alzheimer's disease brains: a role during neuronal apoptosis.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, Graduate School of Medicine, Kyoto University, 54-Shogoin-Kawahara-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-5807, Japan.


Accumulating evidences indicate that ceramide is closely involved in apoptotic cell death in neurodegenerative disorders and aging. We examined ceramide levels in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) or brain tissues from patients with neurodegenerative disorders and the mechanism of how intra- and extracellular ceramide was regulated during neuronal apoptosis. We screened the ceramide levels in the CSF of patients with neurodegenerative disorders, and found that ceramide was significantly increased in patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) than in patients with age-matched amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and other neurological controls. With immunohistochemistry in AD brains, ceramide was aberrantly expressed in astroglia in the frontal cortices, but not detected in ALS and control brains. To explore for the regulation of ceramide in astroglia in Alzheimer's disease brains, we examined the metabolism of ceramide during neuronal apoptosis. In retinoic acid (RA)-induced neuronal apoptosis, RA slightly increased de novo synthesis of ceramide, but interestingly, RA dramatically inhibited conversion of [14C] ceramide to glucosylceramide (GlcCer), suggesting that the increase of ceramide mass is mainly due to inhibition of the ceramide-metabolizing enzyme GlcCer synthase. In addition, a significant increase of the [14C] ceramide level in the culture medium was detected by chasing and turnover experiments without alteration of extracellular [14C] sphingomyelin levels. A 2.5-fold increase of ceramide mass in the supernatant was also detected after 48 h of treatment with RA. These results suggest a regulatory mechanism of intracellular ceramide through inhibition of GlcCer synthase and a possible role of ceramide as an extracellular/intercellular mediator for neuronal apoptosis. The increased ceramide level in the CSF from AD patients, which may be derived from astroglia, raises a possibility of neuronal apoptosis by the response to intercellular ceramide in AD.

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