Intracellular delivery of ceramide lipids via liposomes enhances apoptosis in vitro

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Ceramide lipids have emerged as important intracellular signalling molecules that mediate diverse cellular effects, of which programmed cell death, or apoptosis, has attracted significant interest. Although the exact mechanism(s) by which ceramides trigger apoptosis is not fully understood, there is considerable evidence that they are key mediators of this response. Exogenously applied, cell-permeable ceramides have been shown to induce apoptosis when incubated with cells in culture. We examined here the cytotoxicity of ceramides with varying acyl chain lengths in order to determine whether acyl chain length affects pro-apoptotic activity within the concentration range of 0-100 μM. We found that for C6-, C8-, C10-, C14- and C16-ceramide, the chain length was inversely proportional to cytotoxic activity, with C6-ceramide being most active (IC50 values in the 3-14 μM range) and C16-ceramide being least active (IC50 values in excess of 100 μM) in the MDA435/LCC6 human breast cancer and J774 mouse macrophage cell lines investigated. Using these two ceramide forms we were able to correlate the observed cytotoxicity with cellular uptake, and we observed that a lack of intracellular delivery may be responsible for the weak activity of C16-ceramide. We therefore investigated the possibility of incorporating ceramide lipids into liposome bilayers to enhance this delivery. We demonstrate that stable, ceramide-containing liposomes can be formulated, and that they are cytotoxic when taken up by cells in vitro. These results provide an increased understanding of the differences in cytotoxic activity of exogenous short- and long-chain ceramide lipids, and their incorporation into biologically active liposomal formulations opens new avenues for apoptosis induction. © 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.




Shabbits, J. A., & Mayer, L. D. (2003). Intracellular delivery of ceramide lipids via liposomes enhances apoptosis in vitro. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta - Biomembranes, 1612(1), 98–106.

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