Stress-induced ceramide generation and apoptosis via the phosphorylation and activation of nSMase1 by JNK signaling

T. Yabu, H. Shiba, Y. Shibasaki, T. Nakanishi, S. Imamura, K. Touhata, M. Yamashita

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88 Citations (Scopus)


Neutral sphingomyelinase (nSMase) activation in response to environmental stress or inflammatory cytokine stimuli generates the second messenger ceramide, which mediates the stress-induced apoptosis. However, the signaling pathways and activation mechanism underlying this process have yet to be elucidated. Here we show that the phosphorylation of nSMase1 (sphingomyelin phosphodiesterase 2, SMPD2) by c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) signaling stimulates ceramide generation and apoptosis and provide evidence for a signaling mechanism that integrates stress-and cytokine-activated apoptosis in vertebrate cells. An nSMase1 was identified as a JNK substrate, and the phosphorylation site responsible for its effects on stress and cytokine induction was Ser-270. In zebrafish cells, the substitution of Ser-270 for alanine blocked the phosphorylation and activation of nSMase1, whereas the substitution of Ser-270 for negatively charged glutamic acid mimicked the effect of phosphorylation. The JNK inhibitor SP600125 blocked the phosphorylation and activation of nSMase1, which in turn blocked ceramide signaling and apoptosis. A variety of stress conditions, including heat shock, UV exposure, hydrogen peroxide treatment, and anti-Fas antibody stimulation, led to the phosphorylation of nSMase1, activated nSMase1, and induced ceramide generation and apoptosis in zebrafish embryonic ZE and human Jurkat T cells. In addition, the depletion of MAPK8/9 or SMPD2 by RNAi knockdown decreased ceramide generation and stress-and cytokine-induced apoptosis in Jurkat cells. Therefore the phosphorylation of nSMase1 is a pivotal step in JNK signaling, which leads to ceramide generation and apoptosis under stress conditions and in response to cytokine stimulation. nSMase1 has a common central role in ceramide signaling during the stress and cytokine responses and apoptosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)258-273
Number of pages16
JournalCell Death and Differentiation
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2015


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