Palmitate induces apoptosis in Schwann cells via both ceramide-dependent and independent pathways

J. Suzuki, K. Akahane, J. Nakamura, K. Naruse, H. Kamiya, T. Himeno, N. Nakamura, T. Shibata, M. Kondo, H. Nagasaki, A. Fujiya, Y. Oiso, Y. Hamada

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29 Citations (Scopus)


Peripheral neuropathy has been reported to prevail in obese or pre-diabetic individuals, yet its etiology remains unknown. Palmitate, a saturated fatty acid increased in obesity and diabetes, is known to induce apoptosis in multiple types of cells and this effect may be mediated by ceramide, a member of the sphingolipid family. To clarify whether de novo ceramide synthesis from palmitate contributes to apoptosis of Schwann cells, we cultured immortalized mouse Schwann cells (IMS) and rat primary Schwann cells with palmitate, a ceramide analogue C2-ceramide as well as inhibitors of the de novo ceramide synthesis (myriocin and fumonisin B1). Apoptosis of IMS detected by nuclear staining and cell membrane inversion was significantly increased by incubation with palmitate for 48 h in a dose-dependent fashion. This enhanced apoptosis was partially but significantly suppressed by myriocin and fumonisin B1. Western blot analysis and immunostaining revealed that palmitate clearly activated caspase-3 in IMS. Unexpectedly, the ceramide synthesis inhibitors failed to suppress the palmitate-induced caspase-3 activation in spite of complete restoration in ceramide accumulation. The results seemed relevant to the observations that C2-ceramide did not activate caspase-3 while provoking apoptosis with a clear dose-dependency. In agreement, the pro-apoptotic action of C2-ceramide was not attenuated by caspase inhibitors that partially suppressed palmitate-induced apoptosis. These results in IMS were well reproducible in rat primary Schwann cells, indicating that the observed phenomena are not specific to the cell line. Collectively, we have reached a conclusion that palmitate induces apoptosis in Schwann cells via both a ceramide-mediated, caspase-3-independent pathway and ceramide-independent, caspase-3-dependent pathways. Given the fact that palmitate and ceramide are increased in obese or pre-diabetic subjects, these lipids may be implicated in the pathogenesis of peripheral neuropathy observed in these disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)188-198
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 10-03-2011
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience


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