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J Biol Chem. 2012 Jun 15;287(25):21384-95. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M112.340513. Epub 2012 Apr 24.

Astrocytes secrete exosomes enriched with proapoptotic ceramide and prostate apoptosis response 4 (PAR-4): potential mechanism of apoptosis induction in Alzheimer disease (AD).

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  • 1Program in Developmental Neurobiology, Institute of Molecular Medicine and Genetics, Medical College of Georgia, Georgia Health Sciences University, Augusta, Georgia 30912, USA.


Amyloid protein is well known to induce neuronal cell death, whereas only little is known about its effect on astrocytes. We found that amyloid peptides activated caspase 3 and induced apoptosis in primary cultured astrocytes, which was prevented by caspase 3 inhibition. Apoptosis was also prevented by shRNA-mediated down-regulation of PAR-4, a protein sensitizing cells to the sphingolipid ceramide. Consistent with a potentially proapoptotic effect of PAR-4 and ceramide, astrocytes surrounding amyloid plaques in brain sections of the 5xFAD mouse (and Alzheimer disease patient brain) showed caspase 3 activation and were apoptotic when co-expressing PAR-4 and ceramide. Apoptosis was not observed in astrocytes with deficient neutral sphingomyelinase 2 (nSMase2), indicating that ceramide generated by nSMase2 is critical for amyloid-induced apoptosis. Antibodies against PAR-4 and ceramide prevented amyloid-induced apoptosis in vitro and in vivo, suggesting that apoptosis was mediated by exogenous PAR-4 and ceramide, potentially associated with secreted lipid vesicles. This was confirmed by the analysis of lipid vesicles from conditioned medium showing that amyloid peptide induced the secretion of PAR-4 and C18 ceramide-enriched exosomes. Exosomes were not secreted by nSMase2-deficient astrocytes, indicating that ceramide generated by nSMase2 is critical for exosome secretion. Consistent with the ceramide composition in amyloid-induced exosomes, exogenously added C18 ceramide restored PAR-4-containing exosome secretion in nSMase2-deficient astrocytes. Moreover, isolated PAR-4/ceramide-enriched exosomes were taken up by astrocytes and induced apoptosis in the absence of amyloid peptide. Taken together, we report a novel mechanism of apoptosis induction by PAR-4/ceramide-enriched exosomes, which may critically contribute to Alzheimer disease.

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