Neutral Sphingomyelinase-2 Deficiency Ameliorates Alzheimer's Disease Pathology and Improves Cognition in the 5XFAD Mouse

J Neurosci. 2016 Aug 17;36(33):8653-67. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1429-16.2016.


Recent evidence implicates exosomes in the aggregation of Aβ and spreading of tau in Alzheimer's disease. In neural cells, exosome formation can be blocked by inhibition or silencing of neutral sphingomyelinase-2 (nSMase2). We generated genetically nSMase2-deficient 5XFAD mice (fro;5XFAD) to assess AD-related pathology in a mouse model with consistently reduced ceramide generation. We conducted in vitro assays to assess Aβ42 aggregation and glial clearance with and without exosomes isolated by ultracentrifugation and determined exosome-induced amyloid aggregation by particle counting. We analyzed brain exosome content, amyloid plaque formation, neuronal degeneration, sphingolipid, Aβ42 and phospho-tau levels, and memory-related behaviors in 5XFAD versus fro;5XFAD mice using contextual and cued fear conditioning. Astrocyte-derived exosomes accelerated aggregation of Aβ42 and blocked glial clearance of Aβ42 in vitro Aβ42 aggregates were colocalized with extracellular ceramide in vitro using a bifunctional ceramide analog preloaded into exosomes and in vivo using anticeramide IgG, implicating ceramide-enriched exosomes in plaque formation. Compared with 5XFAD mice, the fro;5XFAD mice had reduced brain exosomes, ceramide levels, serum anticeramide IgG, glial activation, total Aβ42 and plaque burden, tau phosphorylation, and improved cognition in a fear-conditioned learning task. Ceramide-enriched exosomes appear to exacerbate AD-related brain pathology by promoting the aggregation of Aβ. Reduction of exosome secretion by nSMase2 loss of function improves pathology and cognition in the 5XFAD mouse model.

Significance statement: We present for the first time evidence, using Alzheimer's disease (AD) model mice deficient in neural exosome secretion due to lack of neutral sphingomyelinase-2 function, that ceramide-enriched exosomes exacerbate AD-related pathologies and cognitive deficits. Our results provide rationale to pursue a means of inhibiting exosome secretion as a potential therapy for individuals at risk for developing AD.

Keywords: 5XFAD; Alzheimer's; ceramide; exosomes; fear conditioning; sphingomyelinase.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / complications*
  • Alzheimer Disease / genetics
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology*
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / metabolism
  • Amyloid beta-Protein Precursor / genetics
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • CD11b Antigen / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / metabolism*
  • Cognition Disorders / therapy
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Exosomes / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism / genetics
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Neuroglia / metabolism
  • Neuroglia / ultrastructure
  • Presenilin-1 / genetics
  • Sphingomyelin Phosphodiesterase / deficiency*
  • Sphingomyelin Phosphodiesterase / genetics


  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • Amyloid beta-Protein Precursor
  • CD11b Antigen
  • PSEN1 protein, human
  • Presenilin-1
  • Smpd3 protein, mouse
  • Sphingomyelin Phosphodiesterase