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Cancer Lett. 2008 Jun 8;264(1):1-10. doi: 10.1016/j.canlet.2008.02.020. Epub 2008 Mar 18.

Ceramide-induced cell death in malignant cells.

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Department of Molecular Biology, University of Duisburg-Essen, Essen, Germany.


Ceramide has been shown to be capable to trigger apoptosis in almost any cell, including tumor cells. Ceramide is generated by a de novo pathway or by sphingomyelinases. Sphingomyelinases hydrolyze sphingomyelin in biological membranes to release ceramide and they are named acid, neutral and alkaline sphingomyelinase depending on their maximum activity at acid, neutral and alkaline pH values, respectively. Stimuli that trigger a release of ceramide to mediate apoptosis include CD95, TNF-receptor, DR5, gamma-irradiation, cytotoxic drugs, UV-light, bacteria, viruses, some forms of developmental death, anti-CD20 and disruption of the cell's contact with its matrix, to name a few. Here, we will focus on the role of acid sphingomyelinase in malignant tumors, which function in apoptosis is best characterized and documented by genetic models. We will discuss concepts that unify the biological actions of ceramide and describe the role of ceramide in important anti-tumor treatment modalities, such as gamma-irradiation and chemotherapy.

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