Employing genetic mouse models we have recently shown that ceramide accumulation is critically involved in the pathogenesis of cystic fibrosis (CF) lung disease. Genetic or systemic inhibition of the acid sphingomyelinase (Asm) is not feasible for treatment of patients or might cause adverse effects. Thus, a manipulation of ceramide specifically in lungs of CF mice must be developed. We tested whether inhalation of different acid sphingomyelinase inhibitors does reduce Asm activity and ceramide accumulation in lungs of CF mice. The efficacy and specificity of the drugs was determined. Ceramide was determined by mass spectrometry, DAG-kinase assays, and fluorescence microscopy. We determined pulmonary and systemic Asm activity, neutral sphingomyelinase (Nsm), ceramide, cytokines, and infection susceptibility. Mass spectroscopy, DAG-kinase assays, and semiquantitative immune fluorescence microscopy revealed that a standard diet did not influence ceramide in bronchial respiratory epithelial cells, while a diet with Peptamen severely affected the concentration of sphingolipids in CF lungs. Inhalation of the Asm inhibitors amitriptyline, trimipramine, desipramine, chlorprothixene, fluoxetine, amlodipine, or sertraline restored normal ceramide concentrations in murine bronchial epithelial cells, reduced inflammation in the lung of CF mice and prevented infection with Pseudomonas aeruginosa. All drugs showed very similar efficacy. Inhalation of the drugs was without systemic effects and did not inhibit Nsm. These findings employing several structurally different Asm inhibitors identify Asm as primary target in the lung to reduce ceramide concentrations. Inhaling an Asm inhibitor may be a beneficial treatment for CF, with minimal adverse systemic effects.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00515229.