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J Biol Chem. 2010 Sep 17;285(38):29078-90. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M110.105296. Epub 2010 Jul 13.

Alkaline ceramidase 2 (ACER2) and its product dihydrosphingosine mediate the cytotoxicity of N-(4-hydroxyphenyl)retinamide in tumor cells.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC 29425, USA.


Increased generation of dihydrosphingosine (DHS), a bioactive sphingolipid, has been implicated in the cytotoxicity of the synthetic retinoid N-(4-hydroxyphenyl)retinamide (4-HPR) in tumor cells. However, how 4-HPR increases DHS remains unclear. Here we demonstrate that 4-HPR increases the expression of ACER2, which catalyzes the hydrolysis of dihydroceramides to generate DHS, and that ACER2 up-regulation plays a key role in mediating the 4-HPR-induced generation of DHS as well as the cytotoxicity of 4-HPR in tumor cells. Treatment with 4-HPR induced the accumulation of dihydroceramides (DHCs) in tumor cells by inhibiting dihydroceramide desaturase (DES) activity, which catalyzes the conversion of DHCs to ceramides. Treatment with 4-HPR also increased ACER2 expression through a retinoic acid receptor-independent and caspase-dependent manner. Overexpression of ACER2 augmented the 4-HPR-induced generation of DHS as well as 4-HPR cytotoxicity, and 4-HPR-induced death in tumor cells, whereas knocking down ACER2 had the opposite effects. ACER2 overexpression, along with treatment with GT11, another DES inhibitor, markedly increased cellular DHS, leading to tumor cell death, whereas ACER2 overexpression or GT11 treatment alone failed to do so, suggesting that both ACER2 up-regulation and DES inhibition are necessary and sufficient to mediate 4-HPR-induced DHS accumulation, cytotoxicity, and death in tumor cells. Taken together, these results suggest that up-regulation of the ACER2/DHS pathway mediates the cytotoxicity of 4-HPR in tumor cells and that up-regulating or activating ACER2 may improve the anti-cancer activity of 4-HRR and other DHC-inducing agents.

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