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Diabetes. 2006 Sep;55(9):2579-87.

Altered adipose and plasma sphingolipid metabolism in obesity: a potential mechanism for cardiovascular and metabolic risk.

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Division of Vascular Biology, La Jolla Institute for Molecular Medicine, San Diego, CA 92121, USA.


The adipose tissue has become a central focus in the pathogenesis of obesity-mediated cardiovascular and metabolic disease. Here we demonstrate that adipose sphingolipid metabolism is altered in genetically obese (ob/ob) mice. Expression of enzymes involved in ceramide generation (neutral sphingomyelinase [NSMase], acid sphingomyelinase [ASMase], and serine-palmitoyl-transferase [SPT]) and ceramide hydrolysis (ceramidase) are elevated in obese adipose tissues. Our data also suggest that hyperinsulinemia and elevated tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha associated with obesity may contribute to the observed increase in adipose NSMase, ASMase, and SPT mRNA in this murine model of obesity. Liquid chromatography/mass spectroscopy revealed a decrease in total adipose sphingomyelin and ceramide levels but an increase in sphingosine in ob/ob mice compared with lean mice. In contrast to the adipose tissue, plasma levels of total sphingomyelin, ceramide, sphingosine, and sphingosine 1-phosphate (S1P) were elevated in ob/ob mice. In cultured adipocytes, ceramide, sphingosine, and S1P induced gene expression of plasminogen activator inhibitor-1, TNF-alpha, monocyte chemoattractant protein-1, interleukin-6, and keratinocyte-derived chemokine. Collectively, our results identify a novel role for sphingolipids in contributing to the prothrombotic and proinflammatory phenotype of the obese adipose tissue currently believed to play a major role in the pathogenesis of obesity-mediated cardiovascular and metabolic disease.

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