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Glycoconj J. 2014 Oct;31(6-7):449-59. doi: 10.1007/s10719-014-9541-y.

Exploring the link between ceramide and ionizing radiation.

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Department of Medical Biotechnology and Translational Medicine, University of Milano, Via Fratelli Cervi 93, 20090, Segrate, Italy.


The aim of radiotherapy is to eradicate cancer cells with ionizing radiation; tumor cell death following irradiation can be induced by several signaling pathways, most of which are triggered as a consequence of DNA damage, the primary and major relevant cell response to radiation. Several lines of evidence demonstrated that ceramide, a crucial sensor and/or effector of different signalling pathways promoting cell cycle arrest, death and differentiation, is directly involved in the molecular mechanisms underlying cellular response to irradiation. Most of the studies strongly support a direct relationship between ceramide accumulation and radiation-induced cell death, mainly apoptosis; for this reason, defining the contribution of the multiple metabolic pathways leading to ceramide formation and the causes of its dysregulated metabolism represent the main goal in order to elucidate the ceramide-mediated signaling in radiotherapy. In this review, we summarize the current knowledge concerning the different routes leading to ceramide accumulation in radiation-induced cell response with particular regard to the role of the enzymes involved in both ceramide neogenesis and catabolism. Emphasis is placed on sphingolipid breakdown as mechanism of ceramide generation activated following cell irradiation; the functional relevance of this pathway, and the role of glycosphingolipid glycohydrolases as direct targets of ionizing radiation are also discussed. These new findings add a further attractive point of investigation to better define the complex interplay between sphingolipid metabolism and radiation therapy.

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