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J Biol Chem. 2011 Feb 11;286(6):4644-58. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M110.164392. Epub 2010 Dec 10.

Developmentally regulated ceramide synthase 6 increases mitochondrial Ca2+ loading capacity and promotes apoptosis.

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Ralph H Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Charleston, South Carolina 29401, USA.


Ceramides, which are membrane sphingolipids and key mediators of cell-stress responses, are generated by a family of (dihydro) ceramide synthases (Lass1-6/CerS1-6). Here, we report that brain development features significant increases in sphingomyelin, sphingosine, and most ceramide species. In contrast, C(16:0)-ceramide was gradually reduced and CerS6 was down-regulated in mitochondria, thereby implicating CerS6 as a primary ceramide synthase generating C(16:0)-ceramide. Investigations into the role of CerS6 in mitochondria revealed that ceramide synthase down-regulation is associated with dramatically decreased mitochondrial Ca(2+)-loading capacity, which could be rescued by addition of ceramide. Selective CerS6 complexing with the inner membrane component of the mitochondrial permeability transition pore was detected by immunoprecipitation. This suggests that CerS6-generated ceramide could prevent mitochondrial permeability transition pore opening, leading to increased Ca(2+) accumulation in the mitochondrial matrix. We examined the effect of high CerS6 expression on cell survival in primary oligodendrocyte (OL) precursor cells, which undergo apoptotic cell death during early postnatal brain development. Exposure of OLs to glutamate resulted in apoptosis that was prevented by inhibitors of de novo ceramide biosynthesis, myriocin and fumonisin B1. Knockdown of CerS6 with siRNA reduced glutamate-triggered OL apoptosis, whereas knockdown of CerS5 had no effect: the pro-apoptotic role of CerS6 was not stimulus-specific. Knockdown of CerS6 with siRNA improved cell survival in response to nerve growth factor-induced OL apoptosis. Also, blocking mitochondrial Ca(2+) uptake or decreasing Ca(2+)-dependent protease calpain activity with specific inhibitors prevented OL apoptosis. Finally, knocking down CerS6 decreased calpain activation. Thus, our data suggest a novel role for CerS6 in the regulation of both mitochondrial Ca(2+) homeostasis and calpain, which appears to be important in OL apoptosis during brain development.

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