Potentiation of cannabinoid-induced cytotoxicity in mantle cell lymphoma through modulation of ceramide metabolism

Mol Cancer Res. 2009 Jul;7(7):1086-98. doi: 10.1158/1541-7786.MCR-08-0361.


Ceramide levels are elevated in mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) cells following treatment with cannabinoids. Here, we investigated the pathways of ceramide accumulation in the MCL cell line Rec-1 using the stable endocannabinoid analogue R(+)-methanandamide (R-MA). We further interfered with the conversion of ceramide into sphingolipids that promote cell growth. Treatment with R-MA led to increased levels of ceramide species C16, C18, C24, and C(24:1) and transcriptional induction of ceramide synthases (CerS) 3 and 6. The effects were attenuated using SR141716A, which has high affinity to cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1). The CB1-mediated induction of CerS3 and CerS6 mRNA was confirmed using Win-55,212-2. Simultaneous silencing of CerS3 and CerS6 using small interfering RNA abrogated the R-MA-induced accumulation of C16 and C24. Inhibition of either of the enzymes serine palmitoyl transferase, CerS, and dihydroceramide desaturase within the de novo ceramide pathway reversed ceramide accumulation and cell death induced by R-MA treatment. To enhance the cytotoxic effect R-MA, sphingosine kinase-1 and glucosylceramide synthase, enzymes that convert ceramide to the pro-proliferative sphingolipids sphingosine-1-phospate and glucosylceramide, respectively, were inhibited. Suppression of either enzyme using inhibitors or small interfering RNA potentiated the decreased viability, induction of cell death, and ceramide accumulation induced by R-MA treatment. Our findings suggest that R-MA induces cell death in MCL via CB1-mediated up-regulation of the de novo ceramide synthesis pathway. Furthermore, this is the first study were the cytotoxic effect of a cannabinoid is enhanced by modulation of ceramide metabolism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Arachidonic Acids / pharmacology*
  • Cannabinoids / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Ceramides / biosynthesis
  • Ceramides / genetics
  • Ceramides / metabolism*
  • Drug Synergism
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Gene Knockdown Techniques
  • Humans
  • Lymphoma, Mantle-Cell / drug therapy*
  • Lymphoma, Mantle-Cell / metabolism*
  • Lymphoma, Mantle-Cell / pathology
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Up-Regulation / drug effects


  • Arachidonic Acids
  • Cannabinoids
  • Ceramides
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • methanandamide