Acid sphingomyelinase plays important roles in ceramide homeostasis, which has been proposed to be linked to insulin resistance. To test this association , acid sphingomyelinase deletion () was transferred to mice lacking the low density lipoprotein receptor (), and then offsprings were placed on control or modified (enriched in saturated fat and cholesterol) diets for 10 weeks. The modified diet caused hypercholesterolemia in all genotypes; however, in contrast to /, the acid sphingomyelinase-deficient littermates did not display hepatic triacylglyceride accumulation, although sphingomyelin and other sphingolipids were substantially elevated, and the liver was enlarged. / mice on a modified diet did not accumulate body fat and were protected against diet-induced hyperglycemia and insulin resistance. Experiments with hepatocytes revealed that acid sphingomyelinase regulates the partitioning of the major fatty acid in the modified diet, palmitate, into two competitive and inversely related pools, triacylglycerides and sphingolipids, apparently via modulation of serine palmitoyltransferase, a rate-limiting enzyme in sphingolipid synthesis. These studies provide evidence that acid sphingomyelinase activity plays an essential role in the regulation of glucose metabolism by regulating the hepatic accumulation of triacylglycerides and sphingolipids during consumption of a diet rich in saturated fats.
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