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1.  The HIV coat protein gp120 promotes forward trafficking and surface clustering of NMDA receptors in membrane microdomains 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2011;31(47):17074-17090.
Infection by the Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can result in debilitating neurological syndromes collectively known as HIV associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND). While the HIV coat protein gp120 has been identified as a potent neurotoxin that enhances NMDA receptor function, the exact mechanisms for effect are not known. Here we provide evidence that gp120 activates two separate signaling pathways that converge to enhance NMDA-evoked calcium flux by clustering NMDA receptors in modified membrane microdomains. HIV gp120 enlarged, and stabilized the structure of lipid rafts on neuronal dendrites by mechanisms that involved a redox-regulated translocation of a sphingomyelin hydrolase (neutral sphingomyelinase-2; nSMase2) to the plasma membrane. A concurrent pathway was activated that enhanced the forward traffic of NMDA receptors by promoting a PKA-dependent phopshorylation of the NR1 C-terminal serine 897 (that masks an ER retention signal), followed by a PKC-dependent phosphorylation of serine 896 (important for surface expression). NMDA receptors were preferentially targeted to synapses, and clustered in modified membrane microdomains. In these conditions, NMDA receptors were unable to laterally disperse, and did not internalize, even in response to strong agonist induction. Focal NMDA-evoked calcium bursts were enhanced three-fold in these regions. Inhibiting membrane modification or NR1 phosphorylation prevented gp120 from enhancing the surface localization and clustering of NMDA receptors, while disrupting the structure of membrane microdomains restored the ability of NMDA receptors to disperse and internalize following gp120. These findings demonstrate that gp120 contributes to synaptic dysfunction in the setting of HIV-infection by interfering with the traffic of NMDA receptors.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4072-11.2011
PMCID: PMC3254245  PMID: 22114277
2.  Plasma Ceramide and Glucosylceramide Metabolism Is Altered in Sporadic Parkinson's Disease and Associated with Cognitive Impairment: A Pilot Study 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e73094.
Background
Mutations in the gene coding for glucocerebrosidase (GBA), which metabolizes glucosylceramide (a monohexosylceramide) into glucose and ceramide, is the most common genetic risk factor for sporadic Parkinson's disease (PD). GBA mutation carriers are more likely to have an earlier age of onset and to develop cognitive impairment and dementia. We hypothesized that plasma levels of lipids involved in ceramide metabolism would also be altered in PD non-GBA mutation carriers and associated with worse cognition.
Methods
Plasma ceramide, monohexosylceramide, and lactosylceramide levels in 26 cognitively normal PD patients, 26 PD patients with cognitive impairment or dementia, and 5 cognitively normal non-PD controls were determined by LC/ESI/MS/MS.
Results
Levels of all lipid species were higher in PD patients versus controls. Among PD patients, levels of ceramide C16:0, C18:0, C20:0, C22:0, and C24:1 and monohexosylceramide C16:0, C20:0 and C24:0 species were higher (all P<0.05) in those with versus without cognitive impairment.
Conclusion
These results suggest that plasma ceramide and monohexosylceramide metabolism is altered in PD non-GBA mutation carriers and that higher levels are associated with worse cognition. Additional studies with larger sample sizes, including cognitively normal controls, are needed to confirm these findings.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0073094
PMCID: PMC3776817  PMID: 24058461
3.  Disturbance in cerebral spinal fluid sphingolipid content is associated with memory impairment in subjects infected with the human immunodeficiency virus 
Journal of neurovirology  2010;16(6):445-456.
Despite widespread use of antiretroviral therapies to control replication of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), dysfunctions of cognition that are collectively termed HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) still occur in approximately 50% of those infected by the virus. Currently there is not a biomarker that can identify HIV-infected people who are at risk for the development of HAND. Previous studies have identified particular sphingolipid species that are dysregulated in HAND, but the neurocognitive correlates of these biochemical findings are not currently understood. To address this question, we compared cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) levels of sphingomyelin, ceramide, and sterol species with performance on standard neurological tests designed to assess the function of multiple cognitive and motor domains in HIV-infected subjects. We found that sphingomyelin:ceramide ratios for acyl chain lengths of C16:0, C18:0, C22:0, and C24:0 were associated with worse performance on several indices of memory. The most striking finding was for the acyl chain of C18:0 that consistently associated with performance on multiple tests of memory. These findings suggest that the sphingomyelin:ceramide ratio for C18:0 may be a reasonable surrogate marker for memory dysfunction in HIV-infected subjects.
doi:10.3109/13550284.2010.525599
PMCID: PMC3144420  PMID: 21087113
ceramide; CSF; HAND; HIV; mass spectrometry; memory; neuron; RAVLT; sphingolipids; sphingomyelin
4.  Could plasma sphingolipids be diagnostic or prognostic biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease? 
Clinical lipidology  2012;7(5):525-536.
Understanding the etiopathological processes of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in the preclinical and early clinical stages will be important in developing new therapeutic targets and biomarkers. There is growing consensus that nonamyloid targets will be necessary to reverse or slow AD progression. Lipidomic, metabolomic and targeted approaches have identified pathways and products of sphingolipid metabolism that are altered early in the course of AD and contribute to the neuropathological alterations associated with AD, including amyloid-β production, tau formation and neurodegeneration. In this article, we briefly review the current literature on the role of sphingolipids in the underlying pathophysiology of AD, and then discuss the current state of translating these findings to clinical populations and the potential utility of plasma sphingolipids as diagnostic and/or prognostic indicators of AD.
doi:10.2217/clp.12.59
PMCID: PMC3627378  PMID: 23606909
Alzheimer’s disease; amyloid; biomarker; blood; ceramide; lipid; neurodegeneration; sphingolipid; tau
5.  Roles for Dysfunctional Sphingolipid Metabolism in Alzheimer’s Disease Neuropathogenesis 
Biochimica et biophysica acta  2010;1801(8):878-886.
Sphingolipids in the membranes of neurons play important roles in signal transduction, either by modulating the localization and activation of membrane-associated receptors or by acting as precursors of bioactive lipid mediators. Activation of cytokine and neurotrophic factor receptors coupled to sphingomyelinases results in the generation of ceramides and gangliosides, which in turn, modify the structural and functional plasticity of neurons. In aging and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), there is increased membrane-associated oxidative stress and excessive production and accumulation of ceramides. Studies of brain tissue samples from human subjects, and of experimental models of the diseases, suggest that perturbed sphingomyelin metabolism is a pivotal event in the dysfunction and degeneration of neurons that occurs in AD and HIV dementia. Dietary and pharmacological interventions that target sphingolipid metabolism should be pursued for the prevention and treatment of neurodegenerative disorders.
doi:10.1016/j.bbalip.2010.05.003
PMCID: PMC2907186  PMID: 20452460
Alzheimer’s Disease; sphingolipid; sphingomylein; ceramide; sphingosine; ganglioside; synapse; amyloid
6.  Ketone bodies protection against HIV-1 Tat-induced neurotoxicity 
Journal of neurochemistry  2012;122(2):382-391.
HIV-1 associated neurocognitive disorder (HAND) is a syndrome that ranges clinically from subtle neuropsychological impairments to profoundly disabling HIV-associated dementia. Not only is the pathogenesis of HAND unclear, but also effective treatments are unavailable. The HIV-1 transactivator of transcription protein (HIV-1 Tat) is strongly implicated in the pathogenesis of HAND, in part, because of its well-characterized ability to directly excite neurons and cause neurotoxicity. Consistent with previous findings from others, we demonstrate here that HIV-1 Tat induced neurotoxicity, increased intracellular calcium, and disrupted a variety of mitochondria functions, such as reducing mitochondrial membrane potential, increasing levels of reactive oxygen species, and decreasing bioenergetic efficiency. Of therapeutic importance, we show that treatment of cultured neurons with ketone bodies normalized HIV-1 Tat induced changes in levels of intracellular calcium, mitochondrial function, and neuronal cell death. Ketone bodies are normally produced in the body and serve as alternative energy substrates in tissues including brain and can cross the blood-brain barrier. Ketogenic strategies have been used clinically for treatment of neurological disorders and our current results suggest that similar strategies may also provide clinical benefits in the treatment of HAND.
doi:10.1111/j.1471-4159.2012.07764.x
PMCID: PMC3419790  PMID: 22524563
HIV-1 Tat; neurotoxicity; ketone bodies; mitochondrial membrane potential; oxidative stress; calcium homeostasis; ATP
7.  Use of a Glycolipid Inhibitor to Ameliorate Renal Cancer in a Mouse Model 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e63726.
In a xenograft model wherein, live renal cancer cells were implanted under the kidney capsule in mice, revealed a 30-fold increase in tumor volume over a period of 26 days and this was accompanied with a 32-fold increase in the level of lactosylceramide (LacCer). Mice fed D- threo-1-phenyl-2-decanoylamino-3-morpholino-1-propanol (D-PDMP), an inhibitor of glucosylceramide synthase and lactosylceramide synthase (LCS: β-1,4-GalT-V), showed marked reduction in tumor volume. This was accompanied by a decrease in the mass of lactosylceramide and an increase in glucosylceramide (GlcCer) level. Mechanistic studies revealed that D-PDMP inhibited cell proliferation and angiogenesis by inhibiting p44MAPK, p-AKT-1 pathway and mammalian target for rapamycin (mTOR). By linking glycosphingolipid synthesis with tumor growth, renal cancer progression and regression can be evaluated. Thus inhibiting glycosphingolipid synthesis can be a bonafide target to prevent the progression of other types of cancer.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063726
PMCID: PMC3650082  PMID: 23671696
8.  ApoE4 disrupts sterol and sphingolipid metabolism in Alzheimer’s but not normal brain 
Neurobiology of aging  2007;30(4):591-599.
The ε4 allele of ApoE is associated with an earlier onset and faster progression of Alzheimer’s disease in patients with the familial form of this neurodegenerative condition. Although ApoE4 has been repeatedly associated with altered sphingomyelin and cholesterol levels in tissue culture and rodent models, there has not been a direct quantification of sphingomyelin or sterol levels in the brains of patients with different forms of ApoE. We measured the sphingolipid and sterol content of human brain tissues and found no evidence of perturbed sterol or sphingolipid biochemistry in the brains of individuals expressing ApoE4 who did not have a preexisting neurodegenerative condition. Nevertheless, ApoE4 was associated with gross abnormalities in the sterol and sphingolipid content of numerous brain regions in patients with Alzheimer’s diseease. The findings suggest that ApoE4 may not by itself alter sterol or sphingolipid metabolism in the brain under normal conditions, but that other neuropathologic changes of Alzheimer’s are required to unmask the effect of ApoE4, and to perturb sterol and sphingolipid biochemistry.
doi:10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2007.07.024
PMCID: PMC2758772  PMID: 17888544
Alzheimer’s disease; apolipoprotein; ApoE; ApoE4; sterol; cholesterol; sphingomeylin; ceramide; sphingolipid
9.  GPI-1046 protects dorsal root ganglia from gp120-induced axonal injury by modulating store-operated calcium entry 
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)–associated sensory neuropathy (HIV-SN) occurs in a large fraction of patients infected with HIV. Viral components, including the coat protein gp120, are thought to exert toxic actions on dorsal root ganglia (DRG) sensory neurons that can be further exacerbated by treatment of HIV infection with some antiretroviral agents. In a tissue culture model of HIV-SN, we found that gp120-induced axonal degeneration in DRG sensory neurons was prevented by treatment with the immunophilin ligand GPI-1046. Gp120 induced a rapid and large release of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) calcium in DRG neurons that was attenuated by treatment with GPI-1046. Further experiments suggested that GPI-1046 reduced the total ER calcium load by attenuating store-operated calcium (SOC) entry. Together, these results suggest that GPI-1046 protects DRG from gp120-induced axonal damage by decreasing the entry of calcium through SOC, thus reducing the total volume of ER calcium that is available to be released by gp120.
doi:10.1111/j.1529-8027.2009.00203.x
PMCID: PMC2728770  PMID: 19335537
axon; calcium; gp120; HIV; peripheral neuropathy
10.  Converging roles for sphingolipids and cell stress in the progression of neurological dysfunction in AIDS 
Sphingolipids are a class of lipids enriched in the central nervous system that have important roles in signal transduction. Recent advances in our understanding of how sphingolipids are involved in the control of life and death signaling have uncovered roles for these lipids in the neuropathogenesis of HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND). In this review we briefly summarize the molecular mechanisms involved in the pathological production of the toxic sphingolipid, ceramide and address questions of how cytokine and cellular stress pathways that are perturbed in HAND converge to deregulate ceramide-associated signaling.
PMCID: PMC2739118  PMID: 18508574
11.  A defect of sphingolipid metabolism modifies the properties of normal appearing white matter in multiple sclerosis 
Brain  2008;131(11):3092-3102.
Maintaining the appropriate complement and content of lipids in cellular membranes is critical for normal neural function. Accumulating evidence suggests that even subtle perturbations in the lipid content of neurons and myelin can disrupt their function and may contribute to myelin and axonal degradation. In this study, we determined the composition and quantified the content of lipids and sterols in normal appearing white matter (NAWM) and normal appearing grey matter (NAGM) from control and multiple sclerosis brain tissues by electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry. Our results suggest that in active-multiple sclerosis, there is a shift in the lipid composition of NAWM and NAGM to a higher phospholipid and lower sphingolipid content. We found that this disturbance in lipid composition was reduced in NAGM but not in NAWM of inactive-multiple sclerosis. The pattern of disturbance in lipid composition suggests a metabolic defect that causes sphingolipids to be shuttled to phospholipid production. Modelling the biophysical consequence of this change in lipid composition of NAWM indicated an increase in the repulsive force between opposing bilayers that could explain decompaction and disruption of myelin structure.
doi:10.1093/brain/awn190
PMCID: PMC2577809  PMID: 18772223
multiple sclerosis; sphingolipid; phospholipid; myelin
12.  A Failure to Normalize Biochemical and Metabolic Insults During Morphine Withdrawal Disrupts Synaptic Repair in Mice Transgenic for HIV-gp120 
Drug abuse in HIV-infected individuals accelerates the onset and progression of HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND). Opiates are a class of commonly abused drugs that have interactive effects with neurotoxic HIV proteins that facilitate glial dysfunction, neuronal damage and death. While the combined effects of neurotoxic HIV proteins and morphine have been extensively studied in the setting of chronic and acute morphine use, very little in known about the effects of HIV proteins during drug withdrawal. Since opiate withdrawal can induce considerable neuronal stress, we determined the effects of opiates (morphine) on brain redox balance, sphingolipid metabolism and synaptic integrity during both chronic and withdrawal conditions in non-transgenic mice (nTg), and in mice transgenic for the HIV-coat protein gp120 (gp120tg). In nTg mice, we found that chronic morphine increased brain oxidative capacity and induced synaptic damage that was largely reversed during drug withdrawal. Gp120tg mice showed a similar response to chronic morphine, but the diminished oxidative capacity and synaptic damage failed to normalize during drug withdrawal. In nTg mice, brain sphingolipid content was not affected by morphine during chronic or withdrawal conditions. In gp120tg mice there was a baseline perturbation in sphingolipid metabolism that manifest as decreased sphingomyelin with accumulations of the bioactive lipid ceramide. Sphingolipid metabolism was highly reactive to morphine in gp120tg mice. Chronic morphine increased sphingomyelin content with a consequent reduction in ceramide. During drug withdrawal, these effects reversed, and sphingomyelin levels were reduced with consequent increases of ceramide. We interpret these findings to suggest that neuronal repair during morphine withdrawal is inhibited in the setting of gp120 by mechanisms that involve sustained oxidative insult and accumulations of the highly reactive intermediate ceramide.
doi:10.1007/s11481-011-9289-0
PMCID: PMC3422763  PMID: 21748284
HIV; HAND; Morphine; Opiates; Neuron; Withdrawal; Oxidative stress; Sphingomyelin; Ceramide; Synapse; PSD95
13.  Roles for Biological Membranes in Regulating Human Immunodeficiency Virus Replication and Progress in the Development of HIV Therapeutics that Target Lipid Metabolism 
Infection by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) involves a number of important interactions with lipid components in host membranes that regulate binding, fusion, internalization, and viral assembly. Available data suggests that HIV actively modifies the sphingolipid content of cellular membranes to create focal environments that are favorable for infection. In this review, we summarize the roles that membrane lipids play in HIV infection and discuss the current status of therapeutics that attempt to modify biological membranes to inhibit HIV.
doi:10.1007/s11481-011-9274-7
PMCID: PMC3417146  PMID: 21445582
HIV; Sphingolipid; Lipid raft; Therapeutics
14.  Role of endolysosomes in HIV-1 Tat-induced neurotoxicity 
ASN NEURO  2012;4(4):e00091.
Combined anti-retroviral therapeutic drugs effectively increase the lifespan of HIV-1-infected individuals who then have a higher prevalence of HAND (HIV-1 associated neurocognitive disorder). Soluble factors including HIV-1 proteins released from HIV-1-infected cells have been implicated in the pathogenesis of HAND, and particular attention has been paid to the HIV-1 Tat (transactivator of transcription) protein because of its ability to directly excite neurons and cause neuronal cell death. Since HIV-1 Tat enters cells by receptor-mediated endocytosis and since endolysosomes play an important role in neuronal cell life and death, we tested here the hypothesis that HIV-1 Tat neurotoxicity is associated with changes in the endolysosome structure and function and also autophagy. Following the treatment of primary cultured rat hippocampal neurons with HIV-1 Tat or as controls mutant-Tat or PBS, neuronal viability was determined using a triple staining method. Preceding observations of HIV-1 Tat-induced neuronal cell death, we observed statistically significant changes in the structure and membrane integrity of endolysosomes, endolysosome pH and autophagy. As early as 24 h after HIV-1 Tat was applied to neurons, HIV-1 Tat accumulated in endolysosomes, endolysosome morphology was affected and their size increased, endolysosome membrane integrity was disrupted, endolysosome pH increased, specific activities of endolysosome enzymes decreased and autophagy was inhibited, as indicated by the significant changes in three markers for autophagy. In contrast, statistically significant levels of HIV-1 Tat-induced neuronal cell death were observed only after 48 h of HIV-1 Tat treatment. Our findings suggest that endolysosomes are involved in HIV-1 Tat-induced neurotoxicity and may represent a target for therapeutic intervention against HAND.
doi:10.1042/AN20120017
PMCID: PMC3379000  PMID: 22591512
autophagy; endosome; HIV-1 Tat; lysosome; neuronal cell death; pH; AM, acetoxymethyl ester, Atg5, autophagy-related gene-5; CXCR4, CXC chemokine receptor type 4; EEA1, early endosome antigen 1; HAND, HIV-1 associated neurocognitive disorder; LAMP1, lysosome-associated membrane protein 1; LC3, light chain 3; LDL, low-density lipoprotein; MAP, microtubule-associated protein; Tat, transactivator of transcription
15.  Selected statins produce rapid spinal motor neuron loss in vitro 
Background
Hmg-CoA reductase inhibitors (statins) are widely used to prevent disease associated with vascular disease and hyperlipidemia. Although side effects are uncommon, clinical observations suggest statin exposure may exacerbate neuromuscular diseases, including peripheral neuropathy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Although some have postulated class-effects, prior studies of hepatocytes and myocytes indicate that the statins may exhibit differential effects. Studies of neuronal cells have been limited.
Methods
We examined the effects of statins on cultured neurons and Schwann cells. Cultured spinal motor neurons were grown on transwell inserts and assessed for viability using immunochemical staining for SMI-32. Cultured cortical neurons and Schwann cells were assessed using dynamic viability markers.
Results
7 days of exposure to fluvastatin depleted spinal motor neurons in a dose-dependent manner with a KD of < 2 μM. Profound neurite loss was observed after 4 days exposure in culture. Other statins were found to produce toxic effects at much higher concentrations. In contrast, no such toxicity was observed for cultured Schwann cells or cortical neurons.
Conclusions
It is known from pharmacokinetic studies that daily treatment of young adults with fluvastatin can produce serum levels in the single micromolar range. We conclude that specific mechanisms may explain neuromuscular disease worsening with statins and further study is needed.
doi:10.1186/1471-2474-13-100
PMCID: PMC3487793  PMID: 22703530
ALS; Peripheral neuropathy; Statins; Toxicity; Motorneuronopathy
16.  The Role of ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters in Neuro-Inflammation: Relevance for Bioactive Lipids 
ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporters are highly expressed by brain endothelial cells that form the blood–brain barrier (BBB). These efflux pumps play an important role in maintaining brain homeostasis as they actively hinder the entry of unwanted blood-derived compounds into the central nervous system (CNS). Consequently, their high activity at the BBB has been a major hurdle for the treatment of several brain diseases, as they prevent numerous drugs to reach their site of action within the brain. Importantly, recent data indicate that endogenous substrates for ABC transporters may include inflammatory mediators, such as prostaglandins, leukotrienes, cytokines, chemokines, and bioactive lipids, suggesting a potential role for ABC transporters in immunological responses, and more specifically in inflammatory brain disorders, such as multiple sclerosis (MS). In this review, we will give a comprehensive overview of recent findings that illustrate this novel role for ABC transporters in neuro-inflammatory processes. Moreover, we will provide first insights into underlying mechanisms and focus on the importance for bioactive lipids, in particular platelet-activating factor, herein. A thorough understanding of these events may form the basis for the development for selective treatment modalities to dampen the neuro-inflammatory attack in MS and thereby reducing tissue damage.
doi:10.3389/fphar.2012.00074
PMCID: PMC3339339  PMID: 22557971
ATP-binding cassette transporters; blood–brain barrier; multiple sclerosis; astrocytes; bioactive lipids; platelet-activating factor; chemokines
17.  Deficiency of a Niemann-Pick, Type C1-related Protein in Toxoplasma Is Associated with Multiple Lipidoses and Increased Pathogenicity 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(12):e1002410.
Several proteins that play key roles in cholesterol synthesis, regulation, trafficking and signaling are united by sharing the phylogenetically conserved ‘sterol-sensing domain’ (SSD). The intracellular parasite Toxoplasma possesses at least one gene coding for a protein containing the canonical SSD. We investigated the role of this protein to provide information on lipid regulatory mechanisms in the parasite. The protein sequence predicts an uncharacterized Niemann-Pick, type C1-related protein (NPC1) with significant identity to human NPC1, and it contains many residues implicated in human NPC disease. We named this NPC1-related protein, TgNCR1. Mammalian NPC1 localizes to endo-lysosomes and promotes the movement of sterols and sphingolipids across the membranes of these organelles. Miscoding patient mutations in NPC1 cause overloading of these lipids in endo-lysosomes. TgNCR1, however, lacks endosomal targeting signals, and localizes to flattened vesicles beneath the plasma membrane of Toxoplasma. When expressed in mammalian NPC1 mutant cells and properly addressed to endo-lysosomes, TgNCR1 restores cholesterol and GM1 clearance from these organelles. To clarify the role of TgNCR1 in the parasite, we genetically disrupted NCR1; mutant parasites were viable. Quantitative lipidomic analyses on the ΔNCR1 strain reveal normal cholesterol levels but an overaccumulation of several species of cholesteryl esters, sphingomyelins and ceramides. ΔNCR1 parasites are also characterized by abundant storage lipid bodies and long membranous tubules derived from their parasitophorous vacuoles. Interestingly, these mutants can generate multiple daughters per single mother cell at high frequencies, allowing fast replication in vitro, and they are slightly more virulent in mice than the parental strain. These data suggest that the ΔNCR1 strain has lost the ability to control the intracellular levels of several lipids, which subsequently results in the stimulation of lipid storage, membrane biosynthesis and parasite division. Based on these observations, we ascribe a role for TgNCR1 in lipid homeostasis in Toxoplasma.
Author Summary
The intracellular parasite Toxoplasma is auxotrophic for several lipids that it scavenges from host organelles. Several studies focused on deciphering the pathways implicated in host lipid delivery to the parasite, but less effort has been devoted to understand how lipids are regulated in Toxoplasma. The ‘sterol-sensing domain’ (SSD) is conserved across phyla and present in several membrane proteins involved in cholesterol homeostasis, cell signaling and cytokinesis. We studied the role of a SSD-containing protein in Toxoplasma which shows significant similarity with Niemann-Pick type C1 proteins (NPC1). Human NPC disease is typified by lysosomal accumulation of cholesterol and sphingolipids. Expression of the parasite NPC1-related protein (named TgNCR1) in mammalian NPC1 mutant cells suppresses lipid accumulation in lysosomes. However, Toxoplasma never internalizes host cholesterol into lysosomes, which predicts a function for TgNCR1 unrelated to exogenous sterol transport. Indeed, genomic deletion of NCR1 does not result in abnormal levels of cholesterol in the parasites but in the overaccumulation of cholesteryl esters and sphingolipids. TgNCR1-deficient parasites form abundant storage lipid bodies and multiple parasites per cycle of division. This suggests that TgNCR1 functions in monitoring the levels of various lipids within Toxoplasma, which in turn impacts the parasite's lipid homeostasis and growth rate.
doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1002410
PMCID: PMC3234224  PMID: 22174676
18.  Plasma sphingomyelins are associated with cognitive progression in Alzheimer’s Disease 
Plasma sphingolipids have been shown to predict cognitive impairment and hippocampal volume loss, but there is little research in patients with Alzheimer’s disease dementia (AD). In this study we sought to determine whether plasma ceramides, dihydroceramides (DHCer), sphingomyelins (SM), or dihydrosphingomyelin (DHSM) levels and ratios of SM/ceramide or DHSM/DHCer were predictive of progression in AD. Probable AD patients (n=120) were enrolled in the Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders Center at Baylor College of Medicine. Plasma sphingolipids were assessed using ESI/MS/MS. Linear mixed effects models were used to examine the relation between baseline plasma sphingolipid levels and cross-sectional and longitudinal performance on the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE), Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale-Cognitive Subscale (ADAS-Cog), and Clinical Dementia Rating-Sum of Boxes (CDR-Sum). Participants were followed a mean of 4.2 visits and 2.3 years. There were no cross-sectional associations. In longitudinal analyses, high levels of DHCer and ceramide were associated with greater progression, but findings did not reach significance (p>0.05). In contrast, higher plasma levels of SM, DHSM, SM/ceramide and DHSM/DHCer ratios were associated with less progression on the MMSE and ADAS-Cog; the ratios were the strongest predictors of clinical progression. Compared to the lowest tertiles, the highest tertiles of DHSM/DHCer and SM/ceramide ratios declined 1.35 points (p=0.001) and 1.19 (p=0.004) less per year on the MMSE and increased 3.18 points (p=0.001) and 2.42 (p=0.016) less per year on the ADAS-Cog. These results suggest that increased SM/ceramide and DHSM/DHCer ratios dose-dependently predict slower progression among AD patients and may be sensitive blood-based biomarkers for clinical progression.
doi:10.3233/JAD-2011-110405
PMCID: PMC3218198  PMID: 21841258
Alzheimer’s disease; biomarker; plasma; sphingomyelin; dihydrosphingomyelin; ceramide; dihydroceramide; sphingosine; sphinganine
19.  Inhibition of neutral sphingomyelinase-2 perturbs brain sphingolipid balance and spatial memory in mice 
Journal of neuroscience research  2010;88(13):2940-2951.
The sphingolipid ceramide is a bioactive signaling lipid that is thought to play important roles in modulating synaptic activity, in part by regulating the function of excitatory postsynaptic receptors. However, the molecular mechanisms by which ceramide exerts its effects on synaptic activity remain largely unknown. We recently demonstrated that a rapid generation of ceramide by neutral sphingomyelinase-2 (nSMase2; also known as sphingomyelin phosphodiesterase-3) played a key role in modulating excitatory postsynaptic currents by controlling the insertion and clustering of NMDA receptors (Wheeler et al. 2009). We now demonstrate that nSMase2 plays a role in memory. Inhibition of nSMase2 impaired spatial and episodic-like memory in mice. At the molecular level, inhibition of nSMase2 decreased ceramide, increased PSD-95, increased the number of AMPA receptors and altered the subunit composition of NMDA receptors. Our study identifies nSMase2 as an important component for efficient memory formation and underscores the importance of ceramide in regulating synaptic events related to learning and memory.
doi:10.1002/jnr.22438
PMCID: PMC2919585  PMID: 20629193
Memory; NMDA; AMPA; Ceramide; Synapse; Sphingomyelinase
20.  Plasma ceramides are altered in MCI and predict cognitive decline and hippocampal volume loss 
Background
A blood-based biomarker of Alzheimer disease (AD) would be superior to CSF and neuroimaging measures in terms of cost, invasiveness and feasibility for repeated measures. We previously reported blood ceramides varied in relation to timing of memory impairment in a population-based study. The present objective was to examine whether plasma ceramides varied by AD severity in a well-characterized clinic sample and were associated with cognitive decline and hippocampal volume loss over one year.
Methods
Participants included 25 normal controls (NC), 17 amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), and 21 early probable AD. A thorough neuropsychological battery and neuroimaging with hippocampal volume determination were conducted at baseline and one year later. Plasma ceramides were assayed at baseline using HPLC-coupled electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry.
Results
While all saturated ceramides were lower in MCI compared to AD at baseline, Ceramides C22:0 and C24:0 were significantly lower in the MCI group compared to both NC and AD groups (p<0.01). Ceramide levels did not differ (p>0.05) in AD versus NC. There were no cross-sectional associations between ceramides C22:0 and C24:0 and either cognitive performance or hippocampal volume among any group. However, among the MCI group, higher baseline ceramide C22:0 and C24:0 levels were predictive of cognitive decline and hippocampal volume loss one year later.
Conclusion
Results suggest that very long-chain plasma ceramides C22:0 and C24:0 are altered in MCI and predict memory loss and right hippocampal volume loss among subjects with MCI. These plasma ceramides may be early indicators of AD progression.
doi:10.1016/j.jalz.2010.03.014
PMCID: PMC2933928  PMID: 20813340
Ceramides; Lipids; Biomarker; Plasma; Mild cognitive impairment; Hippocampal volume
21.  Plasma Ceramides Are Elevated in Depression 
This study preliminarily examined whether plasma ceramides were elevated in depression, and if the elevation was more pronounced in Alzheimer’s compared to controls. Results suggest plasma ceramides are elevated in persons with a major depression diagnosis regardless of dementia status.
doi:10.1176/appi.neuropsych.23.2.215
PMCID: PMC3121176  PMID: 21677254
ceramides; lipids; depression
22.  Serum sphingomyelins and ceramides are early predictors of memory impairment 
Neurobiology of aging  2008;31(1):17-24.
A blood-based biomarker of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) progression could be instrumental in targeting asymptomatic individuals for treatment early in the disease process. Given the direct connection between sphingomyelins (SM), ceramides, and apoptosis, these lipids may be indicators of neurodegeneration and AD progression. Baseline serum SM and ceramides from 100 women enrolled in a longitudinal population-based study were examined as predictors of cognitive impairment. Participants were followed up to 6 visits over 9 years. Baseline lipids, in tertiles, were examined in relation to cross-sectional and incident impairment (<1.5 SD below standard norms) on HVLT-immediate and -delayed memory recall and Trails A and B. SM and ceramides varied in relation to the timing of HVLT-delayed impairment: low levels were associated with cross-sectional impairment; high levels predicted incident impairment in asymptomatic individuals. Lipids were not associated with loss-to-follow-up. Results suggest serum SM and ceramides vary according to the timing of the onset of memory impairment and may be good pre-clinical predictors, or biomarkers, of memory impairment: a deficit observed early in AD pathogenesis.
doi:10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2008.03.011
PMCID: PMC2783210  PMID: 18455839
Sphingomyelins; Ceramides; Serum lipid markers; Memory; Alzheimer’s disease; Biomarker
23.  TNFα-induced neutral sphingomyelinase-2 modulates synaptic plasticity by controlling the membrane insertion of NMDA receptors 
Journal of neurochemistry  2009;109(5):1237-1249.
The insertion and removal of N-methyl D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors from the synapse are critical events that modulate synaptic plasticity. While a great deal of progress has been made on understanding the mechanisms that modulate trafficking of NMDA receptors, we do not currently understand the molecular events required for the fusion of receptor containing vesicles with the plasma membrane. Here we show that sphingomyelin phosphodiesterase3 (also known as neutral sphingomyelinase-2; nSMase2) is critical for TNFα-induced trafficking of NMDA receptors and synaptic plasticity. TNFα initiated a rapid increase in ceramide that was associated with increased surface localization of NMDA receptor NR1 subunits and a specific clustering of NR1 phosphorylated on serines 896 and 897 into lipid rafts. Brief applications of TNFα increased the rate and amplitude of NMDA-evoked calcium bursts and enhanced excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs). Pharmacological inhibition or genetic mutation of nSMase2 prevented TNFα-induced generation of ceramide, phosphorylation of NR1 subuints, clustering of NR1, enhancement of NMDA-evoked calcium flux and EPSCs.
doi:10.1111/j.1471-4159.2009.06038.x
PMCID: PMC2688711  PMID: 19476542
24.  Ceramides predict verbal memory performance in coronary artery disease patients undertaking exercise: a prospective cohort pilot study 
BMC Geriatrics  2013;13:135.
Background
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is associated with verbal memory decline, although deterioration may be mitigated in individuals undertaking exercise interventions. Ceramide sphingolipids, suggested to play a role in pathological neurodegeneration, have been associated with the development and progression of CAD but their relationship with cognitive response to exercise has not been assessed. In this study, concentrations of very long chain ceramides (C22:0 and C24:0) were assessed as predictors of changes in verbal memory performance over 1 year in subjects with CAD undertaking cardiac rehabilitation (CR).
Methods
Verbal memory was measured using the California Verbal Learning Test 2nd Ed. (CVLT-II), from which Z-scores were calculated based on age, gender and education matched norms. Baseline plasma C22:0 and C24:0 ceramide concentrations were measured from fasting blood samples using high performance liquid chromatography coupled electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry (LC/MS/MS). Repeated measures general linear models were used to determine the association between baseline plasma ceramides and the change in verbal memory performance over 1 year of CR controlling for age and body mass index (BMI).
Results
In patients with CAD (n = 33, mean age = 62 ± 9 years, 84.8% male, years of education = 17 ± 3 years), higher baseline plasma C22:0 (F1, 29 = 5.30, p = 0.03) and C24:0 (F1, 29 = 4.04, p = 0.05) concentrations significantly predicted less improvement in verbal memory performance over 1 year of CR controlling for age and BMI.
Conclusions
Plasma ceramide concentrations should be further examined as potential predictors of cognitive response to exercise and worse cognitive outcomes in patients with CAD.
Trial registration
NCT01625754
doi:10.1186/1471-2318-13-135
PMCID: PMC3924163  PMID: 24330446
Ceramides; Memory; Verbal memory; Coronary artery disease; Exercise; Cognitive deficits
25.  Serum ceramides increase the risk of Alzheimer disease 
Neurology  2012;79(7):633-641.
Objectives:
Previous studies have shown that high serum ceramides are associated with memory impairment and hippocampal volume loss, but have not examined dementia as an outcome. The aim of this study was to examine whether serum ceramides and sphingomyelins (SM) were associated with an increased risk of all-cause dementia and Alzheimer disease (AD).
Methods:
Participants included 99 women without dementia aged 70–79, with baseline serum SM and ceramides, enrolled in a longitudinal population-based study and followed for up to 6 visits over 9 years. Baseline lipids, in tertiles, were examined in relation to all-cause dementia and AD using discrete time Cox proportional survival analysis. Lipids were analyzed using electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry.
Results:
Twenty-seven (27.3%) of the 99 women developed incident dementia. Of these, 18 (66.7%) were diagnosed with probable AD. Higher baseline serum ceramides, but not SM, were associated with an increased risk of AD; these relationships were stronger than with all-cause dementia. Compared to the lowest tertile, the middle and highest tertiles of ceramide d18:1–C16:0 were associated with a 10-fold (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.2–85.1) and 7.6-fold increased risk of AD (95% CI 0.9–62.1), respectively. The highest tertiles of ceramide d18:1–C24:0 (hazard ratio [HR] = 5.1, 95% CI 1.1–23.6) and lactosylceramide (HR = 9.8, 95% CI 1.2–80.1) were also associated with risk of AD. Total and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglycerides were not associated with dementia or AD.
Conclusions:
Results from this preliminary study suggest that particular species of serum ceramides are associated with incident AD and warrant continued examination in larger studies.
doi:10.1212/WNL.0b013e318264e380
PMCID: PMC3414665  PMID: 22815558

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