Ischemia/Reperfusion Injury Alters Sphingolipid Metabolism in the Gut

Cell Physiol Biochem. 2016;39(4):1262-70. doi: 10.1159/000447831. Epub 2016 Sep 8.


Background: Intestinal ischemia/reperfusion injury (I/R) is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in surgical patients. Ceramide is a mediator of apoptosis and has been implicated as increasing bacterial infection susceptibility. The metabolite of ceramide, sphingosine, was recently shown to play an important role in the cell-autonomous, innate immune response of the upper respiratory tract by killing bacterial pathogens. The role of ceramide and/or sphingosine after mesenteric I/R is unknown. We investigated the specific effects of intestinal I/R on tissue ceramide and sphingosine concentration and resulting susceptibility to bacterial invasion.

Methods: To simulate intestinal I/R, C57BL/6 mice underwent 30 minutes of vascular clamp-induced occlusion of the superior mesenteric artery followed by variable reperfusion times. Jejunum segments and intraluminal contents were analyzed for ceramide, sphingosine and bacteria using immunohistochemistry. Jejunum samples were also homogenized and cultured to quantify bacterial presence in the proximal intestine.

Results: We hypothesized that I/R induces an increase of ceramide in the intestine resulting in increased permeability, while a concomitant decrease of sphingosine may permit bacterial overgrowth. Control mice had no measurable bacteria in their proximal jejunum as measured by tissue culture and immunohistochemistry. After I/R, bacterial counts in the jejunum increased in a time-dependent manner, reaching a peak at 12 hours after reperfusion. Immunohistochemical analysis revealed a marked increase in ceramide in the vasculature of jejunal villi. In contrast, while ceramide concentrations in the epithelial cells decreased after I/R, sphingosine levels appeared to remain unchanged. Surprisingly, bacteria present in the jejunal lumen following I/R contained a ceramide coat.

Conclusion: These data indicate that intestinal I/R leads to small intestine bacterial overgrowth as well as ceramide formation in the jejunal vasculature, which may contribute to the gut permeability associated with this injury. Moreover, our novel finding of ceramide in bacterial membranes represents a new opportunity to investigate the dynamic pathogenicity of the gut microbiome. The hypothesis that a decrease of sphingosine after I/R permits bacterial overgrowth in the intestine was not confirmed.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / growth & development
  • Bacterial Load
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Intestinal Mucosa / blood supply
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / microbiology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / pathology
  • Jejunum / blood supply
  • Jejunum / metabolism*
  • Jejunum / microbiology
  • Jejunum / pathology
  • Male
  • Mesenteric Arteries / microbiology
  • Mesenteric Arteries / pathology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Permeability
  • Reperfusion Injury / metabolism*
  • Reperfusion Injury / microbiology
  • Reperfusion Injury / pathology
  • Sphingosine / metabolism*


  • Sphingosine