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Pharmacol Res. 2011 Jan;63(1):23-9. doi: 10.1016/j.phrs.2010.09.007. Epub 2010 Oct 8.

(R)-α-Lipoic acid treatment restores ceramide balance in aging rat cardiac mitochondria.

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Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA.


Inflammation results in heightened mitochondrial ceramide levels, which cause electron transport chain dysfunction, elevates reactive oxygen species, and increases apoptosis. As mitochondria in aged hearts also display many of these characteristics, we hypothesized that mitochondrial decay stems partly from an age-related ceramidosis that heretofore has not been recognized for the heart. Intact mitochondria or their purified inner membranes (IMM) were isolated from young (4-6 mo) and old (26-28 mo) rats and analyzed for ceramides by LC-MS/MS. Results showed that ceramide levels increased by 32% with age and three ceramide isoforms, found primarily in the IMM (e.g. C(16)-, C(18)-, and C(24:1)-ceramide), caused this increase. The ceramidosis may stem from enhanced hydrolysis of sphingomyelin, as neutral sphingomyelinase (nSMase) activity doubled with age but with no attendant change in ceramidase activity. Because (R)-α-lipoic acid (LA) improves many parameters of cardiac mitochondrial decay in aging and lowers ceramide levels in vascular endothelial cells, we hypothesized that LA may limit cardiac ceramidosis and thereby improve mitochondrial function. Feeding LA [0.2%, w/w] to old rats for two weeks prior to mitochondrial isolation reversed the age-associated decline in glutathione levels and concomitantly improved Complex IV activity. This improvement was associated with lower nSMase activity and a remediation in mitochondrial ceramide levels. In summary, LA treatment lowers ceramide levels to that seen in young rat heart mitochondria and restores Complex IV activity which otherwise declines with age.

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