Obesity is defined by excessive lipid accumulation. However, the active mechanistic roles that lipids play in its progression are not understood. Accumulation of ceramide, the metabolic hub of sphingolipid metabolism, has been associated with metabolic syndrome and obesity in humans and model systems. Here, we use Drosophila genetic manipulations to cause accumulation or depletion of ceramide and sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P) intermediates. Sphingolipidomic profiles were characterized across mutants for various sphingolipid metabolic genes using liquid chromatography electrospray ionization tandem mass spectroscopy. Biochemical assays and microscopy were used to assess classic hallmarks of obesity including elevated fat stores, increased body weight, resistance to starvation induced death, increased adiposity, and fat cell hypertrophy. Multiple behavioral assays were used to assess appetite, caloric intake, meal size and meal frequency. Additionally, we utilized DNA microarrays to profile differential gene expression between these flies, which mapped to changes in lipid metabolic pathways. Our results show that accumulation of ceramides is sufficient to induce obesity phenotypes by two distinct mechanisms: 1) Dihydroceramide (C14:0) and ceramide diene (C14:2) accumulation lowered fat store mobilization by reducing adipokinetic hormone- producing cell functionality and 2) Modulating the S1P: ceramide (C14:1) ratio suppressed postprandial satiety via the hindgut-specific neuropeptide like receptor dNepYr, resulting in caloric intake-dependent obesity.
Obesity is characterized by excessive weight gain that increases one's risk for pathologies such as Type II diabetes and heart disease. It is well-known that a high calorie diet rich in saturated fats contributes to excessive weight gain. However, the role that saturated fats play in this process goes far beyond simple storage in fat tissue. Saturated fats are essential building blocks for the bioactive lipid ceramide. Accumulation of ceramide has recently been associated with obesity. However, it is not known whether its accumulation plays an active role in the induction of obesity. Here, we utilized genetic manipulation in Drosophila to accumulate and deplete a variety of ceramide species and other related lipids. Our results showed that modulation of ceramide and related lipids is sufficient to induce obesity through two distinct mechanisms: a caloric intake-dependent mechanism works through suppression of neuropeptide Y satiety signaling, while a caloric intake-independent mechanism works through regulation of hormone producing cells that regulate fat storage. These data implicate ceramides in actively promoting obesity by increasing caloric intake and fat storage.