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Int J Cancer. 1996 May 3;66(3):358-66.

Sphingosine and its methylated derivative N,N-dimethylsphingosine (DMS) induce apoptosis in a variety of human cancer cell lines.

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The Biomembrane Institute, University of Washington, Seattle, 98119, USA.


In the study of apoptosis initiated by various signals including ligands binding to cell membrane receptors such as Fas and TNFRI, the sphingomyelin pathway and its resulting metabolites, the sphingolipids, have been suggested to be involved in the signaling pathway. In earlier studies we presented data which indicated that sphingosine (Sph) itself was increased during apoptosis induced by phorbol myristate acetate (PMA) in HL60 cells and tumor necrosis factor (TNF) in neutrophils, and when added exogenously was able to induce apoptosis. We report here that Sph and its methylated derivative N,N,-dimethylsphingosine (DMS) are able to induce apoptosis in cancer cells of both hematopoietic and carcinoma origin. In human leukemic cell lines CMK-7, HL60 and U937, treatment with 20 microM Sph for 6 hr caused apoptosis in up to 90% of cells. Human colonic carcinoma cells HT29, HRT18, MKN74 and COLO205 were shown to be more susceptible to apoptosis upon addition of DMS (>50%) than of Sph (<50%), yet were weakly or not sensitive to N,N,N-trimethylsphingosine (TMS). Under the same conditions, in the presence of serum, neither Sph-1-phosphate nor ceramide analogues C2-, C6- or C8-ceramide were able to induce apoptosis in any cell lines. However, in the absence of serum, ceramide analogues induced apoptosis in leukemia cell lines after 18 hr, yet much less so than Sph or DMS. Furthermore, apoptosis induced by Sph or DMS could not be inhibited by the ceramide synthase inhibitor fumonisin B1. Apoptosis was not induced by sphingolipids in primary culture cells, such as HUVEC or rat mesangial cells, but was apparent in transformed rat mesangial cells. Additionally, apoptosis induced by Sph, DMS or C2Cer was inhibited by protease inhibitors. Our data further support the evidence that the catabolic pathway of sphingomyelin involving Sph and other metabolites is an integral part of the apoptosis pathway.

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