Sustained activation of sphingomyelin synthase by 2-hydroxyoleic acid induces sphingolipidosis in tumor cells

J Lipid Res. 2013 May;54(5):1457-65. doi: 10.1194/jlr.M036749. Epub 2013 Mar 7.


The mechanism of action of 2-hydroxyoleic acid (2OHOA), a potent antitumor drug, involves the rapid and specific activation of sphingomyelin synthase (SMS), leading to a 4-fold increase in SM mass in tumor cells. In the present study, we investigated the source of the ceramides required to sustain this dramatic increase in SM. Through radioactive and fluorescent labeling, we demonstrated that sphingolipid metabolism was altered by a 24 h exposure to 2OHOA, and we observed a consistent increase in the number of lysosomes and the presence of unidentified storage materials in treated cells. Mass spectroscopy revealed that different sphingolipid classes accumulated in human glioma U118 cells after exposure to 2OHOA, demonstrating a specific effect on C16-, C20-, and C22-containing sphingolipids. Based on these findings, we propose that the demand for ceramides required to sustain the SMS activation (ca. 200-fold higher than the basal level) profoundly modifies both sphingolipid and phospholipid metabolism. As the treatment is prolonged, tumor cells fail to adequately metabolize sphingolipids, leading to a situation resembling sphingolipidosis, whereby cell viability is compromised.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Ceramides / metabolism
  • Ceramides / pharmacology
  • Glioma / metabolism*
  • Glioma / pathology
  • Humans
  • Oleic Acids / pharmacology*
  • Sphingolipidoses / chemically induced
  • Sphingolipidoses / metabolism*
  • Sphingolipidoses / pathology
  • Sphingolipids / metabolism
  • Transferases (Other Substituted Phosphate Groups) / metabolism*


  • 2-hydroxyoleic acid
  • Ceramides
  • Oleic Acids
  • Sphingolipids
  • Transferases (Other Substituted Phosphate Groups)
  • phosphatidylcholine-ceramide phosphocholine transferase